7Gen takes advantage of tribal ownership for opportunities, growth

This is the first in a series of spotlights on businesses owned and operated by Mno-Bmadsen, the Pokagon Band’s non-gaming economic development organization.

7Gen AE, the architectural engineering firm owned by the Pokagon Band, has had a good couple of years. The startup, opened in 2012, tripled its revenue in 2016, earning $3.2 million. Where there were five employees in 2014, today there are 15.

“And we will potentially need more staff as future contracts get rolling,” said Jeremy Berg, 7Gen’s managing director and president.

The firm has several major projects in the pipeline. The team is designing an addition and renovation to the Veterans Affairs hospital in Ann Arbor. This was 7Gen’s first VA project. Thanks to that, they won a five year contract for work on all the VA hospitals in Michigan. Keeping with the health facility work—7Gen designed the Pokagon Health Services building—they developed two health clinics for Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe in Minnesota. They also won a five year, $10 million job with the Army Corps of Engineers for Department of Defense medical facilities and a five year contract with the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

“We leveraged the work we did with Pokagon,” said Berg. “That let us go after that project hard and win it.”

Berg acknowledges that 7Gen is a young company, but given its tribal ownership they built their portfolio more quickly than a normal start up firm would.

“The work we do for Pokagon is so critical; it helps us short circuit the amount of time and dues we have to pay to get out and work for these agencies. It really catapulted our business, no doubt,” he said.

7Gen has an 8A certification with the Small Business Administration, which gives businesses owned by traditionally marginalized entrepreneurs—like a tribe—a leg up in government contracting.

“This is a factor in winning federal government business, and our tribal ownership helps us when working with other tribes,” said Berg.

Perhaps the most meaningful upcoming project for the team is a regional health clinic for Indian Health Services in Rapid City, South Dakota. The site is a former boarding school and tuberculosis hospital for Native Americans called the Sioux Sanatorium. The project entails demolishing the building, built in 1898, and developing a 200,000 square feet, technologically advanced facility.

“We’ve been hired do part one of a two part process,” said Berg. “We’ve been tracking this project for 18 months, and interviewed and won the project.

“The sense of pride in the work we do with tribes, when a new facility opens up, is awesome and humbling. Part of our interview strategy [for this] was to talk about this project as an opportunity to heal the community. I’ve learned a lot about native journeys; it’s been eye opening for me personally. Work with that higher purpose is one of the great things about working here. We get to be part of that; it’s something special.”

One of the current openings at 7Gen is for a federal project manager to assist with the government opportunities. And any Pokagon student who has an interest in architecture looking for exposure to the field is welcome to learn with 7Gen through Mno-Bmadsen’s tribal pathways program.

“We are well positioned to continue to grow over the next few years,” said Berg.