Northern Michigan University junior Bazile Panek won NMU's 2021 New Business Venture Competition for both his written plan and his presentation in the Big Pitch competition for his proposed business, Niim, which will market socks adorned with traditional Indigenous designs created by Native Americans. Freshman Jimmy Flom won the crowd favorite award at the Big Pitch for his proposal, The Burger Boat.
“I was inspired to start Niim because, up until attending college, I didn't have to wear business attire very often,” said Panek, a Native American studies major. “When I started having to do that on a more regular basis, I felt uncomfortable because it was such a contrast to what I was used to wearing, which was a traditional ribbon shirt and a beaded medallion. This is what Native American people consider as ‘business attire.'
“I started to wear dress socks with Native American designs and my beaded medallion as a necktie. I immediately felt so much more confident anytime I had to wear business attire. I felt proud of my ancestry and culture, and that confidence led to more opportunities for me. I was inspired to provide inexpensive socks with Native American designs to others who may also be lacking the confidence to step up and create opportunities for themselves in our Western society.”
Panek said Niim will create a respectful and direct avenue to appreciate Indigenous peoples and their art. Initially, the business will carry three different designs of casual crew socks, with the goal of adding three new designs each year. The name Niim is a shortened version of the word niimi, which means “he or she dances” in the Ojibwe language, he said.
Flom, an entrepreneurship major, won crowd favorite with 60.2% of the vote for his proposal, The Burger Boat. His business would be a floating restaurant located on the highly trafficked Torch Lake Sandbar, serving burgers, brats, hot dogs and more to boaters who pass through.
The competition is an opportunity for NMU students, either individually or in teams of up to five, to submit their plan for a new business and compete for cash prizes and business counseling services. The event was held virtually this year. Cash and prizes for the competition totaled $13,750. The crowd favorite received about $1,500, with a cash and in-kind value of $5,750 for the written business plan and $6,500 for the Big Pitch presentation.
“I'm really excited to move forward with Niim by using the funds for purchasing all that's required for me to start the business,” said Panek. “I'm also looking forward to the consultation that's provided. The opportunity to work directly with business professionals and have them answer all my burning questions is really exciting. Winning the competition was a huge motivation for me, so I'm looking forward to starting the business in the near future.”
According to Carol Johnson, dean of NMU's College of Business, judges' comments included "These were, without a doubt, some of the best business plans and presentations we've seen in a long time” and “The four presentations and business plans were so diverse and interesting. Each of the competitors were very passionate about their ideas and had interesting proposals. It was fun."
The Big Pitch competition featured four finalists who pitched their business ideas from among 45 initial proposals. They each had 15 minutes to present, followed by 10 minutes of questioning from the judges. Judges were Joe Constance, Kristy Sibilsky and Joe Thiel.
The event was supported by a gift from NMU alumnus Ervin Kranberg, Tailored CPAs, and Kendricks, Bordeau, Keefe, Seavoy & Larsen, P.C.