Clara Pratte, Founder and CEO of Strongbow Strategies, shares on Episode 10 of the Native Business Podcast: “I think, right now, we’re at this point in Indian Country where we need to invest in individual entrepreneurs and private sector growth, because the government can’t and shouldn’t be anything and everything to all people. …We need to make sure that our little boats are rising, that we’re investing in our small businesses, our individually owned businesses, and that we’re also accepting and welcoming non-Native businesses to come work on our lands as well.” (Photo Courtesy Clara Pratte)
“My mother always told me that there’s no such thing as saying, ‘That’s not my job,’” says Clara Pratte, CEO of Strongbow Strategies, a multi-disciplinary firm that supports agencies and private companies in need of IT and cyber security support, GIS services, emergency management and even facilities support.
Pratte (Navajo) says she’s always had an entrepreneurial streak. “My dad was a business owner in the hospitality field,” she says. Her parents owned and operated three Northern Arizona nightclubs, or as Pratte calls them, “honky tonks.” Her childhood was filled with country music, and with observing her parents working hard to manage the clubs and provide for their family. “My mom would sweep floors and manage the bars with my dad or on her own.”
Pratte continues to be amazed by the energy and drive of Tribal business owners. “Every entrepreneur has a deep drive to give back,” she says. “They’re also amazing corporate citizens.” Click To Tweet
However, Pratte spent much of her post-university career — she has a bachelor’s degree from the Eller College of Management at the University of Arizona and a master’s degree in public policy and management from Carnegie Mellon University — working in the public sector before launching Strongbow in 2013.
Pratte has served as the national director of the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Office of Native American Affairs, where she says she encountered many Tribal-owned businesses and individual Tribal entrepreneurs — and many different management systems. “I’ve been both the customer looking for services and a GS-grade federal employee who must comply with procurement policies,” says Pratte, who’s an SBA 8(a) program specialist. “The varied experience helps to balance and round out my perspective on different aspects of management.” She’s also considered a subject matter expert on Tribal policy, law and economic development, and has testified before Congress on these subjects. And, she received one of the National Center for American Indian Economic Development’s 40 Under 40 awards in 2010.
Pratte says she continues to be amazed by the energy and drive of Tribal business owners. “Every entrepreneur has a deep drive to give back,” she says. “They’re also amazing corporate citizens.”
Pratte also served as chief of staff for Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye and as executive director of the nation’s Washington, D.C., office, which provided her with even more valuable Tribal government experience.
Even after starting Strongbow, she worked nights and weekends to build her small company until 2016, when she brought in a minority partner to grow the firm. However, now that she’s jumped off the cliff of 9-to-5 job security in favor of creating her own paychecks, Pratte is enjoying the sensation of growing her wings.
One of Strongbow’s most unusual contracts involves Antarctica, Doritos tortilla chips and expensive, sensitive scientific equipment. “Strongbow supplies workforce augmentation for various needs,” says Pratte. “Our staffers are used to inspect cargo that will be loaded on barges to supply the National Science Foundation’s facilities in Antarctica,” she says. “The cargo must meet the agency’s criteria and needs. Those scientists need their Doritos!”
One issue that Pratte sees in the Tribal business world is a gender gap, especially in the IT field. “There aren’t many women in IT,” she says. “We need more women in these roles. I recall the words of one expert who says that society can’t cut half of its workforce and be able to have 100 percent of its brainpower.” And, she would like to see more investment in the younger generation to create new entrepreneurs.
Pratte also is thankful for the support of various organizations such as the Udall Foundation and New Mexico commercial capital programs for Native entrepreneurs. “I wouldn’t be where I am without the Udall Foundation,” says Pratte, who was a Udall congressional fellow and presidential management fellow.
And of course, family plays a strong role in her success. “My mother, grandmas, auntys and my husband’s parents are the best!” says Pratte, who’s the mother of a 1 ½-year old son and will welcome her second child in January 2019. Pratte moved home to the Southwest both to be close to family and so her children would grow up fluent in the Navajo language. “It’s hard to do when you’re far from your homeland,” she says.
In fact, she has words of advice for other working moms: “Don’t be too hard on yourself,” she says. “Work hard to balance work and life. And look for resources in your area.”