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Carlson Ventures Enterprise Team Spurs Economic Development on Tribal Land

July 28, 2014

This year, the White Earth Band of Ojibwe tapped a team of MBA students to analyze potential business-tribal partnerships that could benefit the White Earth community. As part of the experiential learning component of their curriculum, the Carlson Ventures Enterprise student team recommended new partnerships that could create jobs for the tribe while preserving the precious natural resources on the tribal land.

"Often, economic development initiatives are very jobs-creation minded, and help in the very near-term but fail over time," says team member Sarah Powell, '14 MBA. "We focused on a nation building approach, where communities worked to build an environment where both people and businesses want to invest and live."

The White Earth Band of Ojibwe, a sovereign nation, is entitled by law to govern the White Earth Reservation -- 1,300 square miles of white pine forests and resource-rich lands in northwestern Minnesota. The community manages the land to allow efficient usage, while protecting its natural resources.

"We looked from the client's perspective at whether there was a market to build something on the land that could create jobs for the tribe," says team member Chris Mathew, '14 MBA. "The tribal council seemed really excited about our proposal."

The team's plan was recently recognized by the Clinton Global Initiative as a bold new way to address a global challenge through impactful partnerships. Mathew joined leaders from White Earth at the CGI America conference in Denver, Colo. this June to develop the idea amid fellow innovators.

"The conference hosted people from across the country working on different projects that are making positive change through business and other ideas. It was a really inspiring place," he says.

The White Earth Tribal Council leaders returned to Minnesota with several new connections to promising business partners and potential funders.

Throughout the project, students, Mathew, Powell, Marissa Szody, Peter Teigland, Xiangjun Xu, and Hao Yu applied key entrepreneurship lessons they picked up in the classroom. According to Mathew, the experience was invaluable for demonstrating real-world business experience to potential employers.

"I'm able to interview now and talk about real business situations I've been in that are relevant to what I'm interviewing for, and I can't overstate how important that is," he says. "You can only talk so much about classroom experience, but when you're doing a project for an external client, it goes miles in an interview."

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