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Published in Economic Development
Tribally owned professional services group rebrands, expands during pandemic COURTESY PHOTO

Tribally owned professional services group rebrands, expands during pandemic

BY Monday, January 25, 2021 06:00am

DOWAGIAC — Seven Generations Group, a professional services portfolio of companies, is rebranding and has also managed to grow its portfolio with the formation of Blue Star Integrative Studio LLC, a full-service architecture firm based in Tulsa, Okla., and the spin off of Kalamazoo-based Steelhead Engineering Co.

A division of Mno-Bmadsen, the non-gaming investment arm of the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians, Seven Generations changed its name to Bodwé Professional Services Group to better reflect its tribal ownership. 

Bodwé also comprises Kalamazoo-based firm Seven Generations Architecture + Engineering and St. Charles, Ill.-based WBK Engineering.

The decision to rebrand the group originated in a desire to eliminate redundancy with the architecture firm and to reference ties to the Pokagon Band. Bodwé means to light a fire for someone, or to meaningfully serve. 

Executives say the name makes sense as a professional services company serving its clients, but also alludes to how companies within Bodwé collaborate with and serve each other.

Bodwé worked with Nerve Collective — a Chicago-based, nationwide network of independent marketing design professionals — to carry out the rebranding process.

Establishing and growing Bodwé was a goal that the company had at the end of 2019, said group President Jeremy Berg. Business slowed a bit when the pandemic hit, but the portfolio quickly switched to working remotely and eventually carried out the goal of expanding, Berg said. 

The fact that the portfolio’s business grew during the COVID-19 pandemic “speaks volumes'' to the strategies the companies have in place, Berg said, noting the companies also leveraged their tribal ownership to do business with the federal government. While many projects across the country were delayed during 2020, Bodwé’s work with federal organizations including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs “didn’t skip a beat,” he said. 

Part of the portfolio’s success this past year relates to how the group is structured, said Dean Suarez-Starfeldt, creative director of Seven Generations Architecture + Engineering.

“It allows us to be small and nimble as individual companies and have the scale of a much larger corporation at the same time,” Suarez-Starfeldt said. 

Expanding in Tulsa

Adding Blue Star Integrative Studio to the Bodwé portfolio extends Bodwé’s geographic footprint into Oklahoma and the state’s 39 tribal nations. The Indigenous multi-disciplinary creative firm was founded in 2012 by Scott Moore y Medina, servicing tribal, public and private sectors with architectural and interior design, strategic planning, fund sourcing, sustainable development consulting and master planning. 

Conversations between Moore y Medina and executives at Seven Generations started in fall 2019, culminating last week with the formation of a new Michigan-registered company undere 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-based law firm Varnum LLP and during the negotiations tapped into the resources of Mno-Bmadsen.

“We were aligned culturally and both had a mission to work with Indigenous people and communities of color across the U.S., so we had the ball rolling before the pandemic,” Berg said. “(Blue Star Integrative Studio) added expertise specifically in terms of Native American housing. We had done some projects before, but in collaboration with (Moore y Medina), getting him in the fold will solidify our credential with housing and planning.”

Companies in Bodwé’s portfolio are currently working on multiple projects with Blue Star Integrative Studio and are looking for more projects where firms across the professional services group can meaningfully collaborate together, Berg said. 

Having Blue Star in its portfolio also gives Bodwé better access to another talent pool with a more diverse workforce, Berg added. 

“For us, it was about opening up a different talent pool and having another place where we can find qualified people, and specifically trying to find Native Americans,” he said. “In our industry, it’s certainly a minority that’s not represented. While there are some, we looked at Tulsa and there is just more access to finding Native American talent there.”

Creating Steelhead

The Steelhead Engineering Co. grew more organically out of Seven Generations Architecture + Engineering. Up until Dec. 31, Seven Generations served as an incubator for employees that eventually formed Steelhead after they reached a critical mass of people and abilities, according to Berg said. 

Steelhead Engineering includes eight engineers and recently moved into new office space at 259 E. Michigan Ave. in Kalamazoo, aided by a grant from the Michigan Economic Development Corp. 

“Last year, we developed and we were able to organize a group of talented engineers,” said Ryan Wielenga, president of Steelhead Engineering. “Our senior level engineers have 60 years of combined experience. We’re really ready to tackle some larger and more engineering-focused projects. We built on Seven Generations Architecture + Engineering’s success and gelled this year as a team, successfully executing several projects.”

The firm provides mechanical, electrical, plumbing and engineering services. 

Steelhead has a few projects under its belt, including the renovation of Radiant Church, work on the surveillance room at the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of Potawatomi’s Firekeepers Casino near Battle Creek, and designing building systems for the Bay Mills Indian Community’s Elder Housing Development in the eastern Upper Peninsula. 

Steelhead also has completed projects in the commercial sector but the company is looking to get into the industrial market, Wielenga said.

“We’re really excited about starting this Steelhead opportunity and looking forward to the opportunities to provide a standalone engineering firm,” Wielenga said. “We’re still here to support Seven Generations and the other entities of Bodwé.”

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EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated from its original version.

Read 6478 times Last modified on Monday, 25 January 2021 08:44
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