10 New Entrepreneurs Graduate Enterprise Academy With Businesses for the Mille Lacs Tribal Economy
December 15, 2022
Participants in the fall 2022 Mille Lacs Enterprise Academy cohort include (back row, left to right): Christopher Gahbow; Jeff Wig, trainer; Treston Panachyse; Angie Litchy; Rachel Nelson; Beverly Knowlen; Danielle Kadlec; and Pam Thomsen, trainer. Front row: LeeAnn Woiteshek; and Raina Killspotted. Not pictured: Carmen Weous and Donita Odden.
Graduates’ ventures include child care, crafts, mobile welding, food truck
LITTLE FALLS, MN—The Initiative Foundation and Mille Lacs Corporate Ventures are celebrating the graduation of 10 new entrepreneurs dedicated to building the Mille Lacs Tribal Economy through their homegrown business ideas.
The Mille Lacs Tribal Economy entrepreneurs recently completed the Foundation’s Enterprise Academy—a business-building program that features a 12-week training program matched with free and ongoing technical assistance and access to flexible loans and other capital. Participants build skills and receive support in the areas that challenge new entrepreneurs in starting and running a business.
The entrepreneurs join four other cohorts of Mille Lacs Enterprise Academy graduates, now representing more than 40 current and aspiring business owners working in and near the tribal economy, designated by three districts that make up the Mille Lacs reservation.
“The partnership with the Initiative Foundation brings together my love of community prosperity and entrepreneurism. We can’t wait to dig in and help these entrepreneurs bring their businesses to the next level,” said Beth Gruber, director of planning and community engagement at Mille Lacs Corporate Ventures. “We are building a pipeline of future business owners that are changing the landscape of the Mille Lacs Tribal Economy. You have to be excited about that.”
“These amazing entrepreneurs' business ideas are rooted in serving their communities and creating opportunities in the tribal economy,” said Brian Voerding, vice president for inclusive entrepreneurship at the Initiative Foundation. “Building equitable economies and communities is core to our work, so we’re pleased to partner with Mille Lacs Corporate Ventures on this project.”
The fall 2022 Mille Lacs Tribal Economy graduates include:
Christopher Gahbow: Christopher has always dreamed of opening his own gun shop. He aspires to manufacture his own guns and ammunition. Christopher currently works in information technology at Grand Casino Mille Lacs. He has three daughters and enjoys spending time with them and cooking. Fun fact: Christopher once won a frybread-eating contest.
Danielle Kadlec: Danielle sees the need for additional child care in the Mille Lacs area and is invested in bringing change to the region. Working with her mother—and drawing on her past experience as director of a casino-based child care site—Danielle's goal is to start a child care center within the Mille Lacs Tribal Economy area. In her free time, she enjoys cooking and sewing and spending time with her husband and three children.
Raina Killspotted: Raina would like to start a business making Ojibwe blankets, moccasins and skirts to be used for ceremonies and funerals. She currently does office work for the Minisinaakwaang Leadership Academy. Raina spent her childhood learning how to sew, harvest wild rice, filet walleye and make frybread. She enjoys spending time with her three children and three grandchildren.
Beverly Knowlen: Beverly lives in Hinckley and would like to start a food truck or restaurant to feed her family and the greater community, including at powwows. Her dream is to succeed with her food truck at the Minnesota State Fair. Beverly currently works as a youth mentor. Fun fact: Beverly is a pool player and currently holds the title of State of Minnesota Master Shooter.
Angie Litchy: Angie started The Crafted Orchard & More with her husband, Trever, in the summer of 2022. The couple is building the Brainerd business from the ground up. Their dream is to sell apples, pumpkins and flowers, and to offer low-cost hayrides and mazes to local people and tourists. Angie and Trever also hope to host vendor fairs and do-it-yourself craft events. Their overarching goal is to give back to the community.
Rachel Nelson: Rachel would like to start a halfway house for Native American women living within the Mille Lacs Tribal Economy area. She currently works as a peer support specialist at a men's halfway house. Rachel has a passion for helping people meet their goals and stay sober. In her free time, she enjoys beading, making jewelry, running and practicing yoga.
Donita Odden: Donita has a history presenting job-skills training and other similar work for the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe’s Aanjibimaadizing program. Training comes naturally to her, and she has made the decision to turn that gift into a full-fledged business. Donita owns Elevation Training Resources and recently took on her first contract.
Treston Panachyse: Treston has years of equine therapy experience and would like to start a ranch to offer therapy and to raise bison as a food source for the community. He also wants to offer classes to teach youth about the importance of bison to the Native American culture. Treston has worked in several career fields and also played semi-pro football. In his free time, he enjoys watching football and playing catch with his dog.
Carmen Weous: Carmen held various positions with the Mille Lacs Band for three decades and is now retired. She wants to open a business to make and sell Native American crafts and offer craft classes. In her free time, she enjoys reading, music and playing with her grandchildren.
LeeAnn Woiteshek: LeeAnn would like to start Molten Metals, a mobile welding company that caters to farmers, truck drivers and cities. She would like to serve the Mille Lacs, Fort Ripley and Brainerd areas. Eventually, LeeAnn would like to expand the business so that she can hire employees, especially women from the Mille Lacs Tribal Economy. LeeAnn is married and has three children. She has worked various construction-industry jobs throughout her career.
The Enterprise Academy in the Mille Lacs Tribal Economy area is supported by the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development; the Neighborhood Development Center; U.S. Bank; U.S. Small Business Administration; Falcon National Bank; and the Wells Fargo Foundation. Technical support is provided by the North Central Small Business Development Center. To learn more, visit ifound.org/economy/enterprise-academy.
High-resolution photo of graduating class
Web-ready photo of graduating class
Caption: Participants in the fall 2022 Mille Lacs Enterprise Academy cohort include (back row, left to right): Christopher Gahbow; Jeff Wig, trainer; Treston Panachyse; Angie Litchy; Rachel Nelson; Beverly Knowlen; Danielle Kadlec; and Pam Thomsen, trainer. Front row: LeeAnn Woiteshek; and Raina Killspotted. Not pictured: Carmen Weous and Donita Odden.
About the Initiative Foundation
The Initiative Foundation serves the 14 counties and two sovereign tribal nations of Central Minnesota: Benton, Cass, Chisago, Crow Wing, Isanti, Kanabec, Mille Lacs, Morrison, Pine, Sherburne, Stearns, Todd, Wadena and Wright counties and the nations of the Leech Lake and Mille Lacs Bands of Ojibwe. Based in Little Falls, the Foundation exists to improve the quality of life and to build stronger communities in Central Minnesota by offering business loans, nonprofit grants, leadership training and donor services through its Partner Funds programs. Since 1986, the Initiative Foundation and its Partner Funds have invested multiple millions in the region through targeted grants and business financing investments.