Washington tribal college students win national business competition

Source: Northwest Indian College

At the beginning of April, Northwest Indian College (NWIC) students headed to Scottsdale, Arizona with a business plan concept in their hands that they hoped was creative enough and put together well enough to out-compete the business plans of tribal college students from across the nation.

The students were in Arizona April 11-13 for the American Indian Business Leaders (AIBL) 2013 Annual National Conference, at which a student business plan competition took place.

The mission of AIBL is to increase the representation of American Indians and Alaska Natives in business and entrepreneurial ventures through education and leadership development opportunities. The business plan competition supports AIBL’s mission by requiring participating students to develop the concept for a business and a written plan for its implementation.

“The competition has us put an idea into words, and then come up with a solid plan for the idea, and then present it in a convincing and thorough enough way to persuade someone to support it,” said NWIC team member Stephanie Charlie, Suquamish. “It gave us hands-on, real world experience. We would have to do the same thing if we were applying for a loan, for instance.”

NWIC team members Jennifer Cordova-James, Allen Revey, Bonnie Russell, Robert Gladstone, and Stephanie Charlie were joined at the conference by NWIC business instructor Steve Zawoysky. Adib Jamshedi, from Lummi Ventures, didn’t attend the conference, but he did provide students with his expertise.

“Adib provided great support in developing the business plan concept,” Zawoysky said.

Students called their plan “Traditional Journeys,” a name that represents the plan’s cultural tourism focus. The plan’s four-hour journey would include a short canoe paddle, a traditional meal, storytelling, songs, dance, and a short nature walk discussing traditional plants and foods.

Charlie said she felt a mixture of emotions heading into the competition – she was both confident and nervous at the same time.

“I wasn’t nervous about the quality of our concept, but about presenting it because I get nervous speaking in front of people,” Charlie said. “Speaking about the plan got easier each time we practiced it, though.”

And the team practiced a lot, Zawoysky said.

“We spent eight to 10 additional hours just practicing the oral presentation once we arrived in Arizona,” Zawoysky said. “It was definitely a working trip.”

Charlie agreed.

“We didn’t have time to sight see, that’s for sure,” she said.

All of that practice paid off. The NWIC team’s plan and presentation was enough to win first place.

“It was really validating for the students,” Zawoysky said. “All of the students were dedicated and motivated to write and present this great business concept. The judges seemed to be most impressed with the cultural content of the concept, by the passionate presentation by the students, and sincere interest in sharing some of the cultural traditions of the Lummi people.”

Zawoysky hopes the win will help build enthusiasm and participation in NWIC’s AIBL chapter, and said it comes at an ideal time, as the college begins offering courses for its newly accredited Bachelor of Arts in Tribal Governance and Business Management program.

“I highly recommend other students get involved in AIBL,” Charlie said. “It’s an experience I will remember for the rest of my life and I look forward to going back again next year.”


Northwest Indian College is an accredited, tribally chartered institution headquartered on the Lummi Reservation at 2522 Kwina Road in Bellingham Wash., 98226, and can be reached by phone at (866) 676-2772 or by email at info@nwic.edu.