The Iinnii Initiative gave away $6,000 to local entrepreneurs on Thursday evening at Medicine Spring Library in the 1st annual Buffalo Tank. Buffalo Tank was a version of the popular TV show Shark Tank. The Buffalo Tank was the result of the Business Planning workshop that was sponsored by the Iinnii Initiative, Blackfeet Tribe. One of the fundamental goals of the Iinnii Initiative is to promote Eco-tourism. The Initiative is funded by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), and this goal within the Initiative was funded by the Kendeda Foundation. The foundation invests in transformative leaders and ideas.
Coordinator Teri Dahle, a former entrepreneur, knows the struggle in starting or expanding a business. So that is where the idea came from in creating a competition such as Buffalo Tank.
Last Spring, 14 participants attended the three-day workshop that was facilitated by Carol Mason. Ms. Mason, a member of the Kainai Nation, is a well-known successful indigenous entrepreneur. She is a clothing designer and at one time manufactured her designs at international markets. She has also been instrumental in helping other indigenous artists by creating art shows and other venues to showcase their art.
Seven of the 14 participants came back for the follow-up workshop. They gave mock presentations to the team; the team gave them feedback, and then on Thursday evening was the big reveal. The participants brought their A game. The Medicine Spring Library set the venue up like a studio audience, and there were four judges who are part of the community. They included the granddaddy of Blackfeet Tourism, Ed DeRosier, Sun Tours; Theodora Weatherwax, art/culture teacher at Napi Elementary; Carol Mason, Northern Plains; and Victoria Augare, grant writer, BCC. Part of the judging also included having a business plan. We encouraged all the participants to start writing their business plans and also encouraged them to put in for the Montana Indian Equity Grant.
The show began with 11-year-old Leo Kipp. His business, Kipp Livestock, is to raise and sell affordable show pigs to his fellow 4-Hers. By providing a well-bred pig that is high quality, his fellow competitors do not have to incur the cost of going to other towns to buy one. His task was to help develop his watering and heating system for his farrowing barn.
The second participant was Drew Landry with Glacier Country Co-op. He wanted to use the funds to help create a co-op in Glacier County to help other entrepreneurs in promoting their products and creating markets to do so in partnership with BCC.
The third presenter was Zana McDonald, ZBIC. Zana wanted to use her 30-plus years of expertise in creating a business help center. The money would be to update her skills and to partner with existing organizations to help her community entrepreneurs.
Joe Rutherford, Joe’s Barbeque, was the fourth presenter. Joe, well-known for his delicious flavored barbeque, wanted extra funds to expand his business to build an outside kitchen adjacent to his house. As he was quoted, “so that his wife could have her kitchen back.”
The fifth presenter was Tyler Running Crane, Little Trading Post. Tyler recently bought a hot dog stand that he had renovated. Tyler also caters food, but with his mobile hot dog stand he would be able to bring his home cooked family recipes to the people or events. He also sells quality clothing to the community at an affordable price in his unique mobile trading post.
Christina Flammond, C&C Meat Processing, was next on the list. Christina has a meat processing business that focuses on not only beef but also game. Her unique niche is that she can get the traditional parts of the animal, such as tripe, liver, kidney, etc. Christina was going to use the money to complete her processing machinery.
Last one to present was Lola Wippert, Inniskimauki Designs. Lola creates beautiful ribbon skirts at an affordable price. She wants to expand her business with more machines to employ elders and youth, plus she wants to use her living room as a place to showcase her skirts.
After much deliberation, the judges awarded the three top prizes. Congratulations to the winners of the 1st Annual Buffalo Tank:
1st Place - Lola Wippert, Innsikimauki Designs - $3,000
2nd Place – Zana McDonald, ZBIC- $2,000
3rd Place – Joe Rutherford, Joe’s Barbeque - $1,000
It was an amazing accumulation of hard work by all participants. The two food businesses, Joe’s Barbeque and Little Trading Post, brought a smorgasbord of food for all to sample. Teri Dahle stated the cool thing about this cohort of entrepreneurs is that they all became friends and are willing to help cross-promote their businesses. She also thought it was cool that all the businesses cared deeply for their community and gave back to the community. Teri also wants to remind our community to utilize these entrepreneurs and shop local. If we don’t as a community support our own businesses, they can’t in turn support our community.