University Relations and Communications

MSU Billings American Indian Business Leaders group take top prize at national competition

April 23, 2012



Dr. A.J. Otjen, College of Business, 657-1653
Dan Carter, University Relations, 657-2269


MSU BILLINGS NEWS SERVICES — For the fourth time in the past eight years, Montana State University Billings business students led the nation in a competition to identify culturally significant business plans to boost the economy on American Indian reservations.


Angela Deputee

The American Indian Business Leaders (AIBL) group at MSU Billings received first place recently at the national conference in Denver for its business plan to develop an eco-tourism business near Pryor. The plan drew tough inquiry from judges, but also admiration, and – eventually – a first place finish.


“The retired executives who were judging the competition were hammering away, but the students had a strong plan,” said Dr. A.J. Otjen, associate professor of marketing and the advisor of the MSU Billings AIBL group. “The strength was in the written plan and marketing.”


Titled “Dream Catchers,” the plan “recognizes an opportunity to enrich and preserve the American Indian culture by providing a place where people can recapture the true Native American Experience – when there was an estimated 25 million-70 million bison roaming in North America.” The Dream Catchers idea is to provide a true Northern Plains, hands-on experience as a place of education, spiritual wellness, organic mindfulness and enjoyment. The concept is similar to a cowboy dude ranch, but with an American Indian focus.


The presentation team consisted of MSU Billings College of Business students Angela Deputee, Nik Wong, Joe Lilienthal and Erika Austin. Each team member handled different aspects of the presentation at the national convention, Otjen said.


“I couldn’t be more proud of them,” Otjen said. “Just being around these students changes my life.”


While Otjen has been involved in all four national championship AIBL teams, she said this year’s crew was inspirational because of the Deputee’s leadership.


A Crow Indian who was born in Lodge Grass, raised in Pryor and finished high school at Billings Senior in 2008, Deputee at first glance can come off as a bit shy and reserved. When she talks about AIBL, however, her eyes light up and the business marketing major in her takes over.


“I love to present the plan,” she said with an easy smile. “This has been a great learning experience.”


When she came to college, she wanted to chart her own path. She didn’t want to follow in her sister’s path as a nurse, instead setting her sites on becoming a lawyer.


With clarity and confidence, she walks a visitor through the Dream Catchers business plan. There is a well-connected and fairly wealthy clientele that likes experienced-based travel, she said. They seek renewed or innovative connections to the West and a focus on American Indian culture and values can be a niche to boost regional and/or tribal economies, she said.


Her sense of confidence has grown in her four years as an AIBL member, she said. She learned effective habits from previous group leaders and worked hard to maintain a team approach where they could learn from each other.


Otjen noted the maturation process of a student who struggled with shyness her freshman year and grew into her leadership role this year as club president. Deputee will finish out her college career at MSU Billings next year with some final classes and then plans to pursue a law degree. Whatever path she takes, Otjen said Deputee will have her AIBL leadership as a launching pad.


“She took care of everything without any drama or problems,” Otjen said. “I’ve really seen her growth in the past year. She is absolutely a real leader… she’s the kind of student you live for.”


For more information on the MSU Billings AIBL group, contact Otjen at 657-1653.


PHOTO ABOVE: Angela Deputee, a senior at MSU Billings, is president of the American Indian Business Leaders team that won first place in a national business plan competition this month in Denver.