Red Cloud Students Enter the Shark Tank:

Professionals Listen to Student’s Ideas for Supporting Economics on the Reservation

posted April 29, 2014

Kristian Big Crow ‘14, a senior at Red Cloud Indian School, took a deep breath before walking  out to greet the judges. “Good morning,” he said as he shook their hands, still going over the talking points in his head. Kristian had only 90 seconds to pitch his Lakota language-learning iPhone app to them and he wanted to impress.

At Red Cloud last week, local area business owners, as well as donors, supporters and staff met for the first annual ‘Shark Tank’ business plan competition—a program organized by Red Cloud’s Economic Development Initiative (EDI).

After taking classes in marketing, entrepreneurship and business, participating students developed business plans that they believe would support economic growth on the reservation, which has seen unemployment near 90% for many years and is ranked as one of the poorest areas in the United States.

Professor Dale Hatfield of Colorado State University, who served as a judge at the competition, believes there is tremendous opportunity for new business on the reservation.

“So many people are forced to go to Rapid City or down into Nebraska for many basic services. There’s great opportunity to bring these services home. Having classes and competitions like this is putting these students on the right track to create their own business and support their communities.”

At the competition, it was clear that Kristian’s hard work on his business idea is paying off. After winning the business plan competition at the Lakota Nation Invitational in December, he continued to develop the concept for his company ‘Big Crow Productions’ which will launch a Lakota language learning app for the web and mobile devices.

He says that he wants to create the app so that students don’t have to lug around heavy Lakota language books, making it easier for future generations to learn their heritage language.

During the ‘Shark Tank’ Kristian spoke about how expensive it is for schools to buy and update language books. With his app, schools would be able to use the app or access his website from any device, making language learning more accessible and affordable. The judges agreed, and Kristian won first place in the competition.

Taking home a new iPad and a gift certificate, Kristian is now one step closer to actually producing the app and starting his company (an iPad was one of Kristian’s start-up costs, needed for testing). With this second win under his belt and the news that he has earned the prestigious Gates Millenium Scholarship, Kristian is now gearing up for business school at Indiana University in the fall.

“Developing a business plan was a very creative process and I enjoyed dreaming about the future of what the reservation might look like,” said Kristian’s classmate Jamie Richards ‘15—who tied for third place with Myriam Rama '15—for her business plan for ‘Hoka Sports,’ a clothing and outfitter company that would attempt capitalize on tourism and athletic clothing needs at area schools while also keeping dollars on the reservation.

Ryan Hussman ‘14 agrees with Jamie. His second place winning company, ‘Huss’s Laundromat’ is “a self-service business.” Ryan says Red Cloud’s economics classes have allowed him to explore the concepts of business and inspired him to take the reservation’s economic future into his own hands.

“[The laundromat] is something I can have running in the background while I’m at college.”

Ryan is planning on attending the University of Colorado this fall to study business funded by a full-ride Gates Millenium Scholarship.

“This whole process—specifically hearing feedback from Professor Hatfield—has given me a lot to think about.  Having these professionals here has allowed us to gain experience in presenting our ideas in front of an audience,” Ryan shared after the competition.

Ryan plans to return to the reservation to support the community when he finishes school and has a number of business ideas already—ideas he feels more confident pursuing after running his laundromat plan through the Shark Tank.

“I was very pleased, and to some extent, surprised by the quality of the student’s presentations,” said Hatfield. “It’s my own personal philosophy that business allows people to better support themselves, their families and their communities. And Red Cloud’s program is putting them on the right track to do just that.”


Learn More about Red Cloud's Economic Development Initiative


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