- By Chez Oxendine
- Economic Development
DOWAGIAC, Mich. — Seven Generations Group, a tribally owned professional services portfolio of companies owned by the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians, is rebranding as it launches a new firm and brings another company under its umbrella.
The group rebranded as Bodwé — a Potawatomi word for building a fire, specifically to meaningfully serve another — and functions as a division of Mno-Bmadsen, the tribe’s non-gaming investment arm.
As part of its transformation, the group formed Tulsa, Okla.-based Blue Star Integrative Studio, giving Bodwé a footprint in Oklahoma, the heart of Indian Country.
Blue Star founder, principal architect, lead designer and managing director Scott Moore y Medina said bringing Bodwé to Tulsa gave the company a direct line to burgeoning talent in Indian Country.
“If you’ve ever looked at where most of the Native Americans are, there’s really 10 states where you find most of the Native population. Oklahoma’s one of them. We’re definitely in the heart of a lot of Native communities and Native nations,” Moore y Medina told Tribal Business News. “We’re also trying to develop that next generation of skilled professionals, and it's a lot easier to find those folks in Oklahoma. We’ve got a lot of opportunities with the tribes in Oklahoma.”
Adding Blue Star also helps Bodwé expand its opportunities to work with Oklahoma tribes, which have become a vibrant market as tribal nations get their economic feet under them, Moore y Medina said.
“Tribes are diversifying, and as a result there’s more revenue coming back into the tribes, and they’re investing. With that comes a lot of planning and a lot of construction projects that need to be designed and built,” Moore y Medina said. “It’s an exciting time. I see a lot of tribes looking for providers and firms that get it. They want people that serve their best interests to have their back, and I think that’s us.”
The Bodwé portfolio of companies includes Kalamazoo, Mich.-based Seven Generations Architecture + Engineering, St. Charles, Ill.-based WBK Engineering and the newly launched Steelhead Engineering Co., also based in Kalamazoo. Between these companies, Bodwé aims to be a full-service provider for clients, said group President Jeremy Berg, who formerly led Seven Generations Architecture and Engineering.
“At Bodwé, we are looking for ways to multiply our abilities based on ownership by the tribe,” Berg said.
Moore y Medina said he first became aware of Seven Generations Architecture and Engineering through a 2019 conference where executives Scott Winchester and Steven VandenBussche were speaking.
“I just loved their presentation, I loved how they engaged tribal community, I loved how they appreciated culture and were able to capture the place and the people,” Moore y Medina said. “I said, ‘These guys are on our wavelength.’”
As 2019 wore on, Blue Star approached an “internal restructuring of its ownership circle,” which prompted the company to look at how the larger industry was recruiting and using minority talent.
Blue Star concluded that many companies were spinning off smaller firms led by one or two minority principals that would funnel work back to larger firms.
“We felt like that’s our competition now, like it or not,” he said. “We thought we better look at different paths and opportunities to be a part of a larger group.”
That realization led Moore y Medina to reach out to executives from Seven Generations Group to see if they were interested in having a conversation.
“They said yes,” Moore y Medina said. “Sometimes all you have to do is have the brave heart to reach out and start a conversation. The more we talked, the more we realized this is going to be really good. This is the right thing to do.”
Both parties worked on the deal throughout 2020. Blue Star could provide Bodwé a foothold in the region, while Bodwé could provide Blue Star access to a larger pool of work, talent and resources already at its disposal.
The discussions culminated last week with Mno-Bmadsen creating a of a new Michigan-registered company under the Blue Star Integrative Studio name. Moore y Medina brought his portfolio and brand with him and joined the new entity. Bodwé was advised on the deal by Grand Rapids, Mich.-based law firm Varnum LLP.
“When we looked at what are the benefits, and what would be the overarching positive outcome of forging this convergence, I thought of: They already have architects and engineers who have been working for some time in Indian Country and other sectors of the market we already have affinities for,” Moore y Medina said. “I’m super excited. I think there’s so much good to come out of this, in the way we can serve a larger geography. It was cool to think, no matter where we went, we could have a large group of professionals that already get it.”
Moore y Medina said the combined group makes for a “massively impressive” portfolio.
“There’s so many types of projects we’ve done one way or the other, whether that’s tribal government facilities, housing, medical facilities, justice facilities. We’ve got a large group of people who have done almost any project you can think of,” he said.
In addition to bringing the portfolio’s companies together, Bodwé will allow the group to centralize many of its back office functions, such as human resources and accounting.
“Having Bodwé as a lightning rod for specific services is important,” Moore y Medina said. “There’s some efficiency and economy of scale that just makes a lot of sense for streamlining, stabilizing, creating a good environment for growth and learning and opportunity.”
Creating a central company to oversee those services for its affiliated subsidiaries was a core concept behind rebranding Seven Generations Group as Bodwé and differentiating it from Seven Generations Architecture and Engineering, Berg said.
“Bodwé was about getting serious about getting some shared services to the group level. It was really about crystalizing Bodwé as sort of an oversight company for the companies part of the professional service (group),” Berg said. “We want to continue to grow, so having that entity there to do that was important.”
Growth amid disaster
The former Seven Generations Group had a “really good year” in 2020, even during the spread of COVID-19, Berg said, citing the portfolio’s success to tribal ownership and access to federal contracts.
“We are growing at a measured pace, trying to grow strategically,” Berg said. “We have sort of built a business model and a foundation that has allowed us to not slow down even during COVID.”
Bringing in Blue Star was one example of that growth, as was launching Steelhead Engineering Co., which helped shore up holes in what Seven Generations Architecture + Engineering could provide to clients.
The group initially formed Steelhead as an internal company to accomplish that goal, Berg said. The goal with the mechanical and electrical engineering company was to capture more of the work obtained by its parent company, versus farming it out to other firms.
“Really, it was born out of a want to reap some of those benefits we had sowed by winning the work,” Berg said. “It was kind of a no-brainer to spin up Steelhead. It’s something we’ve been talking about for some time.”
As of Jan. 1, Steelhead spun off into its own independent company within Bodwé and moved into new office space in downtown Kalamazoo, thanks in part to a grant from the Michigan Economic Development Corp., the state’s economic development arm.
Steelhead’s next strategic goal is to obtain 8(a) certification through the U.S. Small Business Administration.
Bodwé also remains open to additional opportunities, Berg said.
“The future is going to be more about specific capabilities and clients. It’s going to be about people – finding the right people that fit and drive business,” Berg said. “With Blue Star, there was its geography. That could be another aspect as we look to the future, whether it’s the Pacific Northwest or Southwest. Those things are on our radar.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated from its original version.