AICCO: 25 Years of Building an Entrepreneurial Community in Oklahoma

AICCO will host the fifth annual The Gathering Business Summit, October 7-9, 2018, at Choctaw Casino Resort in Durant, Oklahoma. (Courtesy AICCO)

Engage in Networking, Business Matchmaking and More at AICCO’s The Gathering 2018 Business Summit

While Oklahoma is a hot bed for successful Native-owned businesses, 25 years ago, there was a lack of cohesion among indigenous entrepreneurs and business leaders across the state.

“The American Indian Chamber of Commerce of Oklahoma started with a group of Native-owned businesses who saw a need to connect and network with other Native-owned businesses in Oklahoma,” said Annetta Abbott, Executive Director of the American Indian Chamber of Commerce of Oklahoma (AICCO).

AICCO was born in 1993 to foster that sense of solidarity and community. Founded in Tulsa, today AICCO counts six chapters throughout the State of Oklahoma.

Annetta Abbott

The Chamber will commemorate its 25th year at its largest annual event, The Gathering 2018 Business Summit. The fifth annual summit takes place October 7-9, 2018, at Choctaw Casino Resort in Durant, Oklahoma.

In the fifth year of the ever-growing conference, The Gathering has transformed into a bigger business matchmaking and networking event. “The Gathering comes full circle in our fifth year,” Abbott told Native Business Magazine™.

A powerhouse networking event, The Gathering offers business matchmaking sessions, and abundant time to visit with the directors of preferred Indian-owned programs and Tribal Employment Rights Offices (TERO) from a number of tribes across Oklahoma.

AICCO is expanding The Gathering’s tradeshow hours, “so it’s much more vendor friendly and people have more opportunity to do business and network,” Abbott noted.

At prior Gatherings, Native businesses have obtained contracts and formed partnerships, leading to substantial business growth. For instance, during the second annual The Gathering, AICCO matched a couple of different vendors that created a joint business in the healthcare industry. “They looked at what each other were doing and thought, ‘If we join forces, then we can be this much better, if we create this type of company.’ Now they’re able to market and go after different contracts with the Indian Health Service and Chickasaw Nation Medical Center,” Abbott shared.

The Gathering sessions will highlight successful business plans of Native-owned businesses, and dive into ways how to seek government contracts and obtain financial assistance for your businesses.

During The Gathering’s AICCO Annual Awards luncheon, the Chamber will “recognize those businesses or members who have gone over and above to facilitate the mission of AICCO,” including a large business of the year, a small business of the year, and a volunteer of the year, Abbott said.

Diversity Procurement  

Anticipate more procurement officers at the fifth annual The Gathering—from corporations as well as tribes. Attendees can enjoy greater one-on-one time with a procurement officer to pitch their business or learn the best way to get into government contracting. In general, Abbott noted, AICCO hones in on avoiding a “narrow-minded” approach to business plans that leads entrepreneurs to “think they can only do business with the tribes. There’s so much more opportunity out there—whether it’s doing business-to-business contracts or taking advantage of diversity programs,” she said.

Among the procurement officers at The Gathering will be a diversity representative from Burlington Northern Railroad. Enbridge Energy, based in Minneapolis with a location in Oklahoma, will be present to recruit contract work with Native-owned businesses.

Through The Gathering, AICCO luncheons and its program Leadership Native Oklahoma, the AICCO has connected dozens of future business partners. The Chamber has also been instrumental in building bridges between entrepreneurs and the right tribal leaders or procurement officers to help them earn their first contact, to refine their Requests for Proposals (RFPs), or to put together a bid. “A lot of them—when they first start out—have a tendency to underbid a project, because they think, ‘If I make it cheap enough, then I will get the job,’” Abbot observed. If that’s their approach, they’re not going to profit, she countered. The AICCO offers that vital guidance and support to new entrepreneurs to set them on a more promising trajectory.

Dynamic Speakers

Choctaw Nation Chief Gary Batton will welcome attendees to The Gathering.

Delivering a keynote speech will be Gary “Litefoot” Davis (Cherokee), Executive Director of the Native American Financial Services Association and Publisher of Native Business™ Magazine, CEO of Davis Strategy Group and a member of the Forbes Finance Council. “He’s an exceptional motivational speaker,” Abbott noted.

Kendra Wilson-Clements

Kendra Wilson-Clements (Choctaw), President of We The People Consulting, LLC, a Native-owned management consulting firm, will give one of her trademark impactful speeches during The 2018 Master of Ceremonies at The Gathering. Clements’ most recent speaking engagement was at the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association’s annual tradeshow.

Cultivating Native Leaders

AICCO will also host a graduation ceremony during The Gathering for Leadership Native Oklahoma, which “provides additional networking, connections, and relationships. Those relationships continue throughout the year,” Abbott explained.

“We launched Leadership Native Oklahoma last year. Through that and Native businesses, we hope to build more Native leaders within Native communities and across Indian Country,” Abbott said, adding that she observes a need for Native people to take more initiative and be more proactive. “We need to go out and knock on the doors and make things happen,” Abbott emphasized.

Abbott also pointed out that, sometimes, to the detriment of Indian Country, a sense of competition can belie and undermine a greater purpose that can only be achieved through alliance and synergy. “So many times we have this tendency to beat everyone up in Indian Country instead of working together,” Abbott noted. AICCO takes a different approach—building bridges to collaboration.

2017 Leadership Native Oklahoma graduates proudly display their awards for completing the eight-month course during the Annual Awards Luncheon at last year’s The Gathering. (Courtesy AICCO)