Microenterprise Development Class #1 - Group Photo

Dreamstarter Incubator Expanding and Training Micro-Enterprise Grant recipients on Pine Ridge

In August 2022, Running Strong for American Indian Youth® announced a new, exciting expansion of our Dreamstarter® program –Dreamstarter Incubator – designed to continue supporting the dreams of Native communities for the long term after their original Dreamstarter projects have concluded.

Our first Dreamstarter Incubator is Dreamstarter entrepreneur Josh Smith from the class of 2019. He is passionate about entrepreneurship and supporting small businesses, especially those that are Native-owned and operated.

Josh, a member of the Osage Nation in Oklahoma, created Micro-enterprise Development to offer loans to individuals and businesses that larger banking institutions may otherwise look over.

Oklahoma Loan RecipientsThe first group of micro-enterprise $5,000 loan recipients, all based in Oklahoma, included Jordan Garza, owner/operator of Native Unlimited in Tulsa, who used her funding to purchase tables, display cases, a used enclosed trailer and some retail products and supplies to start her mobile vendor’s market where she offers beadwork, belts, breastplates, portions of regalia, t-shirts, and other items sought after by the Native American community.

“Our mission is to spread cultural awareness outside of just the way a Native American may look,” she said. “We believe culture and heritage runs deeper than the color of your skin and the length of your hair.”

Another is Whitney Virden, owner/operator of Roots + Blooms in Bartlesville, a full-service flower shop specializing in events, weddings, and workshops. “We believe that flowers improve the mental well-being of those who experience them through self-care or by receiving them as a gift,” says Whitney. “Flowers connect us to nature and give insight to our Creator. His promises are seen in the beauty of His creations.”

Expanding to Pine Ridge:  Josh recently expanded his micro-enterprise project to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. In October, the Sioux Falls television station KELO described the unemployment rate for some tribal lands in South Dakota as “staggering” and added that “several sources have reported the unemployment rate at Pine Ridge at around 80 percent for the past several years.”

KELO also reported that World Population Review said in January 2023, the poverty rate for the Native American population in South Dakota was about 49 percent, the highest in the country by far, followed by Mississippi with a Native American poverty rate of 34.13 percent.

In addition, KELO reported that “counties in reservations in South Dakota are among the nation’s counties in persistent poverty, according to the Census Bureau,” which includes the counties of Oglala Lakota, Jackson, and Bennett located in the Pine Ridge reservation.

These disturbing facts clearly illustrate the lack of meaningful job and career opportunities for thousands of Oglala Lakota mothers, fathers, and grandparents on the reservation who want nothing more than to hold a worthwhile job that pays enough to feed their children, keep a roof over their heads, and stay warm on the coldest days of winter.

That’s why the Dreamstarter Incubator micro-enterprise program’s expansion is vitally important on the reservation.

Training on business planning and accounting:  In December, Josh held a workshop for budding entrepreneurs at our Oyate Ta Kola Ku Community Center, which focused on building a business plan, starting with the vision or “why” of their business, viewing a TED Talk, Simon Sinek’s “Start with Why,” and having them write their purpose in their business.

“We had answers including going into business to give their kids a place to develop a work ethic, offering jobs to people in the community struggling with depression and alcohol dependency, working to preserve their culture through traditional clothing, and preserving the environment through sustainable fashion,” Josh reported. “Then we worked through a basic business plan together so that each business left the class with a basic business plan draft to continue to work on. 

“I deeply appreciated learning more about the reason each of the awardees went into business and what drives them in using their businesses to benefit the community as a whole.”

Josh held a second workshop on Pine Ridge in February featuring Nathan Barham, a partner at an Oklahoma-based accounting firm who spoke to the group of Native entrepreneurs focusing on business accounting basics and preparing for taxes as a business owner.

“He did an incredible job addressing questions and pitfalls small businesses may face in keeping track of their finances,” Josh reported.

For the 2023-2024 cohort, our micro-enterprise loan recipients on Pine Ridge are:

Danesha Zephier, an enrolled member of the Yankton Sioux Tribe living on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, a single mother, and a senior in college. Her dream is to start her own Native American regalia and jewelry-making business, intending to provide traditional and contemporary regalia and jewelry for our youth, starting with jingle dresses for the girls and grass dance regalia for the boys.

She plans to use the loan funds to purchase materials to begin producing pieces to sell.

Chuck Hernandez (Oglala Lakota), the owner of Charlie’s Lawn Mowing and Snow Removal Service, dreamed of starting his own business. He could do this thanks to a vocational rehab program that helped him get his lawn care equipment.

He is now seeking to fully launch his business with the help of a work truck, which he will use the loan funds to purchase. This will allow him to meet an essential niche in a community with no other lawn service providers.

Jazlyn Fraser and Catlin Fraser own JJ’s Pizza, which has long served delicious pizza at powwows all over South Dakota. However, due to major maintenance issues, the truck has been idle for the past two years. Jaz and Cat hope to restore it to its former glory and begin serving their amazing pizza at powwows and in their community once again.

They plan to use the loan funds to repair the truck and return it to working order.

Sharifah Ferguson, owner of Makatakiya (towards the Earth), uses her background in clothing design to offer beautifully designed traditional and modern clothing with a focus on sustainable materials.

She is seeking to launch this new venture so that her community will have access to well-made clothing that is produced with consideration of the earth.

 Kellie Pourier is seeking to start a screen-printing business. She has been screen-printing for friends and family using a small machine for several years but has been unable to produce more than that due to equipment limitations.

Kellie’s goal is to start a screen-printing business to produce well-designed, quality t-shirts, hoodies, and sweaters for members of her community.

She plans to use the loan funds to buy a screen printer and the materials needed to begin her business.

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