University Relations and Communications

American Indian Business Leaders group wins national competition

May 18, 2011



Dr. A.J. Otjen, AIBL advisor, 657-1653
Dan Carter, University Relations, 657-2269


MSU BILLINGS NEWS SERVICES — Connections can make a good business even better and some Montana State University Billings learned this spring that making all the right connections can also win competitions.


For the third time in recent years, the MSU Billings chapter of American Indian Business Leaders (AIBL) has won the national championship in the business plan competition. The team won the competition — and a $1,500 prize — at this year’s annual conference in Phoenix.


MSUB award winning student, Curtis WalletteAIBL is an inclusive business student group that strives to teach and create business professionals in the American Indian community. This year, the group consisted of seven members: Angela Deputee, Zoey McRae, Kelley Minard, Trixy Phelan, Bob Standish, Curtis Wallete, and Heather Wilson. The team was led by Wallete, the group’s president, as well as advisor A.J. Otjen, a marketing professor at the MSU Billings College of Business.


Typically, the competition involves developing business plans for a fictitious company. This year, however, Wallete decided to use his connections with Cheyenne artist Jon Beartusk to develop a plan for an artist cooperative on the Crow Indian Reservation near the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument.


“He and I have been really good friends for a long time and he came to me last fall with the idea for this,” said Wallete, who will be completing his senior year this fall.


Beartusk, who specializes in solar pyrography (art made by magnifying the rays of the sun and burning wood), found fame in 2008 when he did a portrait of President Barack Obama when he made a campaign stop to the Crow Reservation. The piece was given to Sen. Jon Tester and eventually delivered to the president.


Since that time, Beartusk has continued to do his art, which has received much attention in Europe. But Wallete said he wanted to develop a plan that would bring more attention to Plains Indian art closer to home.


The AIBL team took the concept and developed the business plan, “Dance of the Sun, LLC.” The cooperative would be a place where reservation artists could gather to create and sell work as well as mentor young artists in the community. Beartusk, who would serve as founder and main artist, attended the conference in Phoenix to support Wallete and the AIBL team.


“It was great,” Wallete said. “I’ve always believed in him and he has always believed in me.”


The team won the competition against universities from across the West, including Washington, New Mexico and Colorado.


Wallete noted the teamwork that was needed to win the competition and said word has spread to Native American artists who want to contribute. More than 30 artists have already contacted him with requests to show their art on consignment.


“This is potentially very profitable,” he said. “I think we have a great plan that was beautifully written and we have a great foundation. In a year I think we’ll be well on our way to making it a reality.”


PHOTO ABOVE: Curtis Wallete, the president of the MSU Billings chapter of the American Indian Business Leaders, led a team of students to a national championship on a business plan competition. Wallete is a student in the MSU Billings College of Business.