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ElseWorks Entrepreneurship Program Advises Mississippi Choctaws on Business Development


When the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians wanted advice about how to encourage entrepreneurial development among its 10,000 members, the tribe sought expertise from the Else School of Management.

Joe Donovan, director of entrepreneurial development for the Else School, and professors involved with the Else School's entrepreneurial initiative known as ELSEWorks recognized the request as an opportunity for students to apply what they have learned and address real business issues.

Dr. Ray Grubbs, B.A. 1973, assigned several student teams in his strategic management class a project to develop a business plan for a retail establishment that would be successful in a rural community on the tribe's reservation in Neshoba County.

The result: Big Creek General Store and an adjoining retail center that will include a fuel station, laundromat, bait shop, police station and wellness center.

Joe Donovan, second from right, director of entrepreneurial development at the Else School of Management, joined Phyliss J. Anderson , center, chief of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, members of the Tribal Council, and the owners, architects and builder of Big Creek General Store for the groundbreaking ceremony for the store and an adjoining retail center in Bogue Chitto, one of the communities on the Choctaw reservation.


Choctaw Chief Phyliss J. Anderson, members of the Choctaw Tribal Council, the store owner, builders, architects and Donovan attended a groundbreaking ceremony in September for the store located in Bogue Chitto, east of Philadelphia, Miss. Construction on the store and retail center is expected to be completed by the end of the year.

Andrew Hatten, B.B.A 2011 and M.B.A. 2012, a member of the student team whose plan for the store and retail center was selected by the tribe for construction, is proud of his team's contribution to the community.

"It is confidence building to see something that I put time and effort into become something real," said Hatten, who is now pursuing a law degree at Mississippi College. "To see that it's feasible and what I learned at Millsaps will help the community of Bogue Chitto is fulfilling."

Hatten and his team composed of then M.B.A. students Bruce Frommeyer, M.B.A. 2012, and Sarah Laughlin, B.B.A. 2011 and M.B.A. 2012, and Annette Vise, a current M.B.A. student, drew up a business model for the store and each business in the retail center.

"We studied how each business was going to be managed, if they would make money and be able to pay their bills and came up with profit-loss statements and balance sheets," Hatten said. "We looked at local competitive businesses and talked to professionals with expertise in the field."

Vise, who is trained as an architect, shared her knowledge of construction with the group, so that it could make recommendations about building a fuel station.

ELSEWorks Business Analyst Molly Lehmuller, B.A. 2011, refined the students' business plan before it was presented to John Hendrix, B.B.A. 1992, economic developer for the Choctaws. Hendrix presented the business model to the Tribal Council, which approved it.

ELSEWorks Business Analysts Drew Moroux, B.B.A. 2012; Eli Ladnier, B.B.A. 2012; Mary Elizabeth O'Leary, B.B.A. 2012; and Russell Morrison also contributed to the project.

Dr. David Culpepper, chair of ELSEWorks and professor of accounting and entrepreneurship, said the project is an example of how ELSEWorks connects entrepreneurs to a network of resources that can increase their odds of success, all with the goal of encouraging and promoting economic development and positive social change.

"The thread that runs through every project we do is that it has to be student-focused," Culpepper said. "The students were involved from the very beginning in all of the planning."

"Helping someone with business planning can be transformative for our students. Not only do they get business exposure but often they have the opportunity to see lives change as a result of their contributions," said Dr. Kim Burke, dean of the Else School.

Hendrix facilitated the work with the tribe. "He saw what Millsaps was doing in the entrepreneurial community and asked us to get involved," Culpepper said.

Opportunities such as the project with the tribe allow "our students to learn to plan, structure, negotiate, and implement a business deal," Culpepper said. "They experience the good, the bad, and the ugly. These types of leadership opportunities - emphasized by the college's new strategic plan - push them up the learning curve relative to other college grads seeking high level jobs."

ELSEWorks has also assisted members of the tribe with these projects:

  • A review of tribal policies.
  • The expansion of the market for handmade jewelry and other crafts sought after by collectors. Choctaw-made crafts were exhibited at the Mississippi Market Wholesale Show, hosted by the Mississippi Development Authority. The event promotes to credentialed retail buyers businesses and products designed, produced and sold in Mississippi.
  • The first Youth Entrepreneurial Summer Camp, which provided basic business skills training for 12 high school members of the tribe, earlier this year. The camp included classes at the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians Economic Development Office and on the Millsaps campus, field trips to businesses and guest lectures by entrepreneurs and business professionals.