University Relations and Communications

American Indian Business Leaders Take Top Place at National Conference

April 18, 2014 



A.J. Otjen, College of Business, 657-1653
Carmen Price, University Relations, 657-2269 


MSU BILLINGS NEWS SERVICES — For the fifth time in the past decade, 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.


AIBL students

The American Indian Business Leaders (AIBL) group at MSU Billings received first place, and a $1,000 cash prize, recently at the national conference in Scottsdale, Ariz. for its business plan to develop an organic beeswax solid lotion for hardworking hands.


The business plan garnered admiration and praise from MSUB faculty, students and administration, and ultimately the judges at the 20th Annual AIBL National Conference that was held April 10-12 at the Fort McDowell Radisson Hotel and Casino.


Dr. A.J. Otjen, professor of marketing and adviser to the AIBL group at MSU Billings, said the first-place award is illustrative of the exceptional work being done by faculty and students in the College of Business.


“The group’s presentation was solid,” said Otjen. “The students put in a lot of time and hard work into the business plan and the entire faculty of the College of Business does an outstanding job teaching students about marketing, finance and operations management.”


The presentation team was comprised of MSU Billings College of Business students and first-year AIBL members Joseph Anketell, a member of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe; Isaiah Hugs, a member of the Crow Tribe; Elaine Cummins, of the Crow Tribe; and Andreia Elkshoulder, a member of the Northern Cheyenne.


The project, titled “Knuckle Busters,” is designed for hardworking hands in arid climates. The product is an organic solid lotion made of beeswax, almond oil and cocoa butter that protects against dry, cracked or irritated skin.


“Our aim is to help improve and encompass the Native American’s dedication to hard work by presenting a product that is made from natural ingredients and made on reservations in Montana,” said Anketell, a junior business management major and the group’s president.


The plan is designed to work with local beekeepers on the Crow and Northern Cheyenne Reservations, utilizing about 100 bee colonies and 6,000 bees in each colony to produce 48,000 products in its first year.


“Reservations have one of the highest unemployment rates of 80 percent,” said Elkshoulder, a junior business management major. “By producing a product from the work of beekeepers on the reservations, we will increase employment and contribute to the reservation’s economy.”


Knuckle Busters is also environmentally friendly using recycled materials for packaging and energy efficient manufacturing equipment including solar energy, said Cummins, a junior business management major.


“It was our mission to show that we can have development on our land as well as protect it,” Cummins said.


The product was originally created in the kitchen of MSU Billings student L.J. Wilkins for his own use. Once friends started asking for the product, Wilkins and members of the AIBL team began to develop a market analysis for the potential growth of sales and ultimate mass production.


The project required the group to create a full-fledged business plan — complete with a mission and vision statement, a financial breakdown and a marketing plan. In the first year, the goal is to produce 48,000 products to sell in about 60 retail stores such as Big R and John Deere in the intermountain region.


The team's business and marketing plan won the competition against universities from across the West, including Alaska, Washington and Colorado.


AIBL is the only American Indian non-profit organization solely dedicated to empowering business students in the United States. The programs are designed to engage students in activities that stimulate, enhance, and expand educational experiences beyond traditional academic methods. All students are encouraged to participate in AIBL regardless of race, academic major, or career objectives.


“AIBL is one of the most effective groups on campus that teaches students how to work well as a team,” Otjen said. “The experience sets students up for success.”


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


PHOTO ABOVE: The American Indian Business Leaders (AIBL) group pose for a group photograph at the annual AIBL National Conference held April 10-12 at the Fort McDowell Radisson Hotel and Casino where they placed first. Pictured left to right is Joseph Anketell, the group’s president; Dr. A.J. Otjen, AIBL group advisor; Elaine Cummins; Andreia Elkshoulder; and Isaiah Hugs, the group's vice-president.