Start Dakota, Episode 9: CO.STARTERS Feature: The Entrepreneurial Journey

Start Dakota episode 9

On Episode 9, Startup Sioux Falls president Brienne Maner sat down with David Clifford, founder of Trap Tipi and creative director for Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation, one of SUSF’s Community Navigator program spoke partners.

Clifford grew up on the Pine Ridge Reservation and attended college in New Mexico at the Institute of American Indian Art. From there, he ended up making impressive connections and working with content creators on brand development and social media management. He had the opportunity to work with actor Mark Ruffalo on a campaign encouraging Native Americans to vote, and he also had the chance to connect with actor Kevin Costner. 

In 2016, he launched Trap Tipi, a business focused on graphic design and brand development, in addition to producing streetwear. He returned to Pine Ridge in 2021, where he continues to operate Trap Tipi in addition to working with Thunder Valley. 

“I needed to be back in this community. I was gone long enough and did enough work out and about. I just want to bring the work ethic that I have and everything that I've learned out there to benefit these organizations and companies that molded me as a child,” he said. 

David Clifford, podcasting

Through his work with Thunder Valley, Clifford says he’s been given a platform to work on projects that sharpen his entrepreneurial skills. Additionally, he’s been able to make connections with local people who he can hire to work on Trap Tipi. 

Thanks to the partnership between Startup Sioux Falls and Thunder Valley, Clifford has also been able to participate in CO.STARTERS, which he says has provided a beneficial perspective on the journey that is entrepreneurship.

“I'm really quiet about a lot of my business. I think it’s the same in our group; we're all kind of similar. We're a little shy in our ventures. So [CO.STARTERS] is opening us up to actually talk about it and to put it on paper,” he said.

He adds that the private approach is one that’s common in the Native community, where there’s an expectation that if you’re in business, you need to be successful immediately. 

Through CO.STARTERS, Clifford and Thunder Valley are providing a supportive platform for Native entrepreneurs to make connections and lift one another up as business owners. 

Clifford hopes for more of these long-term opportunities — he says those are the tools his community actually needs.

“We don’t need short-term platforms that amplify a significant part of our struggle. We need a platform that amplifies the beauty in what we do, how honest, respectful, prideful, creative, and smart we are. We don’t need any more poverty porn, any more people knowing how poor we are. We need tools, platforms, and for people to believe in us.”

Brienne Maner, podcasting

That’s just a taste of the conversation between Maner and Clifford. Tune in for more about Clifford’s journey and how CO.STARTERS and Thunder Valley CDC work together to serve entrepreneurs. 

Show Notes:

  • CO.STARTERS Challenge: Customer Discovery
  • Complete your “fieldwork” before the next episode: Your ideal customer will change over time. Return to the customer discovery process to:
        • Revise who your customer is.
        • Identify new traits and demographics.
        • See if your solution, alternatives, and advantages have also changed.

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.