This year the statewide business plan competition, a part of the annual Lakota Nation Invitational (LNI) that takes place every December, celebrated its 10th year with 33 competitors – nearly double last year and more than any other previous year. The participating students represented White River, Red Cloud, Little Wound, Lower Brule, St. Francis, Todd County, and Cheyenne Eagle Butte High Schools.
Sarah Keefe from White River High School won the top prize – a $1,000 scholarship – as the 1st Place Award in the Senior Division for her funeral home business idea. She will also have the opportunity to receive a $2,500 equity injection from Lakota Funds, a community loan fund on the Pine Ridge Reservation that sponsored the event. The equity injection would be paired with a business loan to support Keefe in starting her business.
“Sarah was really well spoken, assertive, and confident. She was extremely well prepared, and you could tell that she thought about every detail,” says Yolanda Clifford, a loan officer at Lakota Funds, who helped coordinate the event. Clifford was especially impressed by the environmentally friendly burial options that Keefe included in her plan.
Other winners of the competition included: Paige LeBeouf from White River High School with a 2nd Place Award in the Senior Division; Sam Grimshaw from Todd County High School with a 3rd Place Award in the Senior Division; Maia Taranto from Todd County High School with a 1st Place Award in the Junior Division; Arvish Bhinder from Todd County High School with a 1st Place Award in the Sophomore Division; and Wohpe Bull Bear from Red Cloud High School with a 1st Place Award in the Freshman Division.
“With each passing year, the contestants are getting more business savvy and becoming more aware of business and entrepreneurship. It’s great to see the level of fine detail into developing their plans is growing every year,” says Clifford.
Business ideas presented in the competition included a funeral home, taxi service, gym, livestock services, various restaurants, and more. All competitors were required to deliver a presentation to a panel of four judges that evaluated entries on several criteria, including market opportunity, management and operations, and financial projections. This year’s judges were: Jennifer Bear Eagle, an attorney for the Oglala Sioux Tribe; Denton Fast Whirlwind, an artist and small business owner; David Kelly, Director of the Oglala Sioux Tribe Department of Transportation, and also an entrepreneur; and Bud May of the Oglala Sioux Tribe Economic Development Office, and a long-time rancher.
This year’s LNI business plan competition was sponsored by Citi Community Development, Lakota Funds, and the Oglala Sioux Tribe Office of Credit and Finance.