Start Dakota, Episode 5: Bolstering Entrepreneurial Development in the Lakota Community with Ryan Hussman

Screen Shot 2022-11-15 at 1.36.09 PM

In Episode 5 of Start Dakota, Startup Sioux Falls’ president, Brienne Maner, sits down with Ryan Hussman of Thunder Valley Development Corporation to discuss entrepreneurship in the Lakota community. 

Thunder Valley’s mission is to empower Lakota youth and families to improve health, education and culture through healing and strengthening of cultural identity. The organization takes a holistic approach to accomplishing that mission with eight different initiatives: food sovereignty, housing and home ownership, Lakota language and education, regenerative community development, regional equity, workforce development, youth leadership and social enterprise. 

Hussman serves as the regenerative economy development director for social enterprise, and he says one of his biggest goals has been to develop a business development center or incubator on a reservation. A few years back, his team conducted a feasibility study and interviewed Maner, who provided insight on what makes a successful accelerator program. Fast forward to 2022, and Thunder Valley is now one of Startup Sioux Falls’ spoke organizations through the Community Navigator program.

“When the Community Navigator pilot program showed up and you reached out to us, we were really excited for the opportunity to make things happen,” Hussman said.

Screen Shot 2022-11-15 at 1.35.02 PM

Hussman and Maner went on to discuss Hussman’s personal connection to and interest in entrepreneurship. Born and raised on the Pine Ridge reservation, Hussman grew up on a cattle ranch, working with his family for much of his life. As early as fourth grade, he was pursuing entrepreneurial ventures, selling homemade stress balls to his classmates. Now, he is completing his education in an entrepreneurship program at a community college and has plenty of entrepreneurial ideas up his sleeve, including a farm-to-table business connected to cattle ranching. 

Maner asked about the challenges the Lakota face as one of the most economically disadvantaged communities in the United States. 

“The biggest thing is infrastructure,” said Hussman. “In terms of having a business, infrastructure is the biggest thing you’ve got to build up … and it’s just a high investment for any regular community member to do. You start talking about big numbers where a simple business can’t really sustain it.” 

Maner says that when Startup Sioux Falls was putting together its group of spoke organizations, they knew they were ill-equipped to support underserved communities across the state for a number of reasons. 

Screen Shot 2022-11-15 at 1.37.48 PM

“I think the biggest thing that came up for our team was trust and how we haven’t had the opportunity to build rapport or build that relationship, partly because of the miles between us, but also there’s cultural barriers here, there’s history, there are feelings,” she said. 

Hussman says that transparency is key when it comes to building trust and connection between the two groups. 

“I think just being transparent about what we’re trying to do instead of being a big talker or trying to sell them on products and services, it’s just about being a good community member and really trying to help them complete or fulfill their needs and objectives and truly see what the community needs,” he said.

That’s just the beginning of the conversation. Tune into the episode for so much more from Hussman and Maner! 

Show Notes

  • Learn more about Thunder Valley here.
  • Submit an interest form for CO.STARTERS.
  • CO.STARTERS Challenge: Your Solution
    • Complete your “fieldwork” before the next episode: Take time to identify and write down your solution. Whether you’re selling retro-themed t-shirts or tattooing services, formalize in your mind what your solution is and all the features it includes. 
  • Business Minute: Learn more about SD CEO here.

This project is made possible through a partnership with Startup Sioux Falls and grant funding provided through the Community Navigator Pilot Program, powered by the SBA. More information can be found here.