Changing Rez Economics: Students Present Business Plans for Change

posted on December 19, 2013

“You’ll do great, Kristian,” said principal Robin Johnson. “Just be confident in your idea and be yourself.” Kristian shook his head in agreement and took a deep breath.

Kristian, a senior at Red Cloud this year, had been minutes away from presenting an independent business plan to a panel of judges at the Lakota Nation Invitational’s (LNI) Business Plan Competition. He and six other Red Cloud students presented plans they developed in their entrepreneurship class—one of a series of new courses launched through the school’s Economic Development Initiative.  

The business plan judges—a group of young MBA graduate students—listened carefully to Kristian and his teammates’ business proposals in a quiet side-room, away from the bustle of LNI. The plans included reenvisioning the architectural possibilities of affordable housing, construction development and even a Lakota language iPhone app that Kristian believes could encourage Lakota youth to get excited when learning about their heritage.

“I’d like to be able to leave something behind for the students who are coming up after me,” says Kristian. “It took me a while to get where I am with the language, and I think something like this will really help with their language learning.”

Employment opportunities are severely limited on the reservation, and have been for decades.  Kristian and his classmates explain that, more often than not, their most ambitious peers have to look for employment off the reservation. But Kristian says that his business classes and business competitions like LNI’s are inspiring a new generation of Native students to look at reservation economics in a more hopeful way. His generation is beginning to spot opportunities where they never existed before.

“I think a lot of companies are starting to look to young people who have early experience with topic like computers, online marketing, and coding,” says Kristian. “Having knowledge of business and entrepreneurship can help those students turn their skills into a business and a career.”

Big Crow Productions, Kristian’s proposed company, would develop and distribute the first Lakota language learning and translation app to the iTunes and Android marketplace. As he rose to present his business plan, Kristian’s smile was unwavering. He took his principal’s advice and presented his plan with confidence and composure.

As Kristian finished his presentation and thanked the judges for their time, one congratulated him individually and shared his contact information. He told Kristian that, if he had the funds and Kristian had a test version, he’d be extremely interested. Kristian beamed with excitement.

All Content ©Red Cloud Indian School, 2013
Images: Above right, Kristian, Left, Genriel presenting to judges