Single mom Andrea Lesher was inspired by her special-needs daughter to start her own business. One day, while doing research on her child’s medical condition, she discovered something eye-opening. “I learned that more Native American children have birth defects than any other minority group in the United States,” she recalled.
She had a lightbulb moment: She would start a nonprofit organization someday to help Native American children born with extremely challenging health problems. “But I realized the only way to do that is to make money, so I created a consulting firm first,” said Lesher, previously a consultant for Northrup Grumman.
A-sa-ma-di (a Cherokee words for “smart”) Business Solutions, headquartered in Denver, is now celebrating its sixth year in business. “My company has doubled in size and we will be generating over $5 million in revenue this year,” said its 37-year-old president and owner, who launched her company with a $150,000 investment. Her staff includes 12 full-time employees, as well as independent contractors. “We have offices across the nation now and are getting ready to move into the international space.”
A-sa-ma-di offers high-end business and technical consulting services for commercial and federal clients, such as Dish Network, Teleflora, the National Park Service and Library of Congress. Lesher, a Cherokee who grew up in the 14 counties of the Cherokee Nation in Nowata, Oklahoma, is still keeping her eye on the prize. While her company is doing very well, she said when it reaches about $35 million in revenue, she will be able to fully fund that not-for-profit organization for Native children that she dreams of starting.
Lesher credits her success to her “crazy willpower and perseverance,” and to the Rocky Mountain Indian Chamber of Commerce (RMICC), where she turned to for help as a young and inexperienced entrepreneur. “When I started my business, I had no idea how to do it. I had even bought a book called ‘How to Start a Business for Dummies.’ The RMICC was critical in helping me understand the steps I needed to take, like how to incorporate my business.”
Recently, the Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs (CCIA) completed a three-year study on the economic impact that Native-owned businesses have had on the state’s economy, for which Lesher served as an advisor. According to preliminary data in the Economic Impact Study (a final report will officially be released in July), Native business owners have created more than 16,000 new jobs and added about $2.2 billion to Colorado’s economy.
“Natives make up only 2 percent of the entire state’s population, so this $2 billion impact is really big,” said CCIA Executive Director Ernest House Jr. in an interview with The Dolores Star.
Lesher believes these findings could be surprising to some people. “I think there are some perceptions that maybe Natives don’t provide to the economy, but take from it. I believe it is still a mindset from long ago that was cast upon our people, and it is an untrue one,” she said. “However, this study shows that Native businesses really do have a strong place in the economy. When Natives get together, and support and help each other, powerful things can happen.”
Lynn Armitage is a contributing business writer and an enrolled member of the Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin.