By: Cole Bauman | Summer Intern | firstname.lastname@example.org
James Holzhauer’s incredible 32-game win streak in the beloved quiz show, “Jeopardy!” ended on June 3rd, 2019. Simply put, Holzhauer’s run turned the “Jeopardy!” world upside-down. He totaled $2,464,216 in winnings over 33 games. He won $131,127 in a single game. Astonishingly, his reign of trivia terror took the previous single-game scoring record and kindly relocated it to 17th place in the Jeopardy! history books when his run was finally complete.
The story behind Holzhauer’s success can be viewed as a lesson to present and future Native American entrepreneurs that in the face of an old challenge, those who possess a unique perspective can implement new strategies and shock the world with their success.
To win so thoroughly, Holzhauer had to play more aggressively than anyone in the game’s history. He also had to think differently. He moved from category to category, chose the most difficult questions on the board, and repeatedly wagered massively on “Daily Double” clues.
Holzhauer was a rare combination of potential, perspective, and preparation. He received his degree in mathematics, but spent his college days building a bankroll in online poker. He later made a career in professional sports betting. For “Jeopardy!,” he prepared by reading a mountain of children’s picture books and mastered how to buzz-in from tips he found in an e-book titled, “Secrets of the Buzzer.”
Today, Native Americans own private businesses at the lowest rate of any racial group in the United States (Robert J. Miller, Reservation Capitalism 114 (2012)). In the game of entrepreneurship, not enough Native Americans are playing. Unfortunately, tribal members often have little or no access to the common methods of financing a business: home equity loans, family wealth, and unsecured loans. (Id.)
The truth is, however, that tribal entrepreneurs often have their own advantages. Many have a unique perspective arising from tribal membership that allows the insights non-Native entrepreneurs may lack. Native American entrepreneurs are more likely to apply subjective thinking to problem-solving, often described as “thinking with [your] heart.” Native American entrepreneurs have also been found to value community more than non-native entrepreneurs. (Id.) What values or perspectives could be better suited for the development of strong reservation economies?
Data tells us that potential Native American entrepreneurs often lack access to mentors, in part because they are less likely to have entrepreneurial parents. (Id.) However, Native Americans can find relief in knowing that inexperience isn’t always a liability, but in fact can be beneficial. Inexperience allows individuals to look at problems in new, holistic ways.
In 2014, we published a post on the topic of the inexperienced mind. The post discussed how the inexperienced person has the benefit of looking at problems without the burdens of, well, previous experience. Newcomers have the rare opportunity to see old problems in a new light and attack them in innovative ways. On some occasions, this allows for the creation of solutions that are both new and superior.
For Native Americans interested in pursuing or mastering business ownership, it’s especially crucial to lean on community for strength. Former Procopio Summer Intern Aaron Fournier is a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation and has taken his own unique approach in business by co-founding Native American Hemp.
As a young Native American entrepreneur, Fournier has leaned on community primarily by networking and seeking the assistance of business mentors, all while studying to receive his law degree. Fournier has since received his Juris Doctor from the University of Oklahoma College of Law and is preparing to sit for the state’s Bar Examination. When Fournier’s entrepreneurial acumen became apparent, his mentors became his business partners. Now, Native American Hemp is a majority Native American-owned business partnering with tribes, tribal members, and farmers to cultivate industrial hemp crops. Native American Hemp is also working to develop proprietary genetics and hemp-based products in partnership with tribes and tribally-owned businesses. Fournier’s company will utilize resources such as the Native American Agricultural Fund, Opportunity Zones, and the Small Business Administration 8(a) Business Development Program to spur a new wave of economic development in Indian Country.
Recently, a Huffington Post article highlighted the community efforts to rebuild the Oglala Lakota Nation on the Pine Ridge reservation, one of the poorest locations in the United States. The piece highlighted Alan Jealous, a member of the Oglala Lakota Nation and co-owner of Thikaga Construction. Jealous is responsible for managing the construction of more than a dozen of the homes set to be built as part of a 34-acre development project currently underway on the reservation.
A dedicated worker and family man, Jealous is also self-effacing. He acknowledges that he may not be an owner of a construction company if not for the support of Thunder Valley CDC, a community-based nonprofit. The members of the Oglala Lakota Nation currently face unemployment rates of 75%, but Jealous was able to take extra online courses to learn to manage Thikaga Construction after earning a degree in General Construction. Thunder Valley CDC’s mission is to empower Lakota youth and families, and it has resources to support those like Jealous who are aligned with that mission.
When someone is uniquely prepared for a task, the result can be success beyond anyone’s expectations. James Holzhauer proved this by side-stepping the “Jeopardy!” blueprint and playing by his own rules. Business-minded Native Americans should celebrate the fact that they too can create their own unique path to success. Moreover, they should trust that even in difficult situations, their communities will support them.
If you are a Native American interested in beginning a business, please refer to the Small Business Administration 8(a) Business Development Program website. The 8(a) Program helps minority owned businesses become independently competitive through specialized business training, counseling, and marketing assistance – key tools for the success of any business.
Cole Bauman is a Procopio Summer Intern and a member of the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. He recently completed his second year at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University, where he served as treasurer for the ASU Native American Law Students Association.