Quileute Member Creating a Smokin' Hot New Business

Competition winner Emily Foster with her father  Lonnie “Lonzo” Foster at the Quileute Marina in La Push. © Kara Cardinal/TNC

Emily Foster, a Quileute Tribe member, is a new business owner and happily up to her elbows in smoked fish.

In 2015, Emily won the $10,000 top prize in the Washington Coast Works Sustainable Small Business Competition. The Nature Conservancy established Washington Coast Works to help cultivate sustainable alternatives to logging, while building stronger rural and tribal communities.

The annual competition is led by The Center for Inclusive Entrepreneurship in partnership with the Taala Fund and Enterprise For Equity. The Quinault Indian Nation has provided sponsorship for the prize funding, along with others. In Alaska, the Conservancy runs a similar program called Path to Prosperity. These programs provide would-be entrepreneurs like Emily the chance to start or improve their own small business. That helps diversify coastal economies, shift profits from corporations to local entrepreneurs and creates economic alternatives to logging to help preserve forests. The competition fits right in with the overall goals of our work in the Emerald Edge.

Winners in Washington Coast Works get $10,000, and two runners-up receive $5,000 each.

Emily had returned to her home in Forks after studying American and ethnic studies at the University of Washington. When she learned about the competition through her job editing the Quileute tribal newsletter, she saw a chance to pursue her dream of starting a small business.

Competitors attend a workshop to learn more about the contest. The takeaway message, says Emily, was “anyone can do it.” Once finalists are announced, they get a three-day crash course in how to identify markets, develop proposals and learn other small-business skills. “It was very intense,” Emily recalls, calling it “eye opening” how involved creating a thorough business plan is.

“I didn’t think I was going to win. Everyone had great business plans,” she said.

But the judges were hooked by hers: to smoke, package and market high-quality, Quileute-caught salmon from the Quileute River.

Emily used her prize money to purchase equipment, such as smokers and freezers, and is still in the process of testing various smoked-salmon recipes. She calls her business Lonzo’s Seafood Company to honor her Dad, whose nickname is Lonzo. “My Dad will help smoke the fish. He’s definitely in on it,” she says. “Smoking fish is something the family has always done.”

As rewarding as the cash, Emily says, has been the support. “Even if I hadn’t won, the mentors and advice are invaluable. I never would have been connected to all these people. For example, Eric Delvin (the Conservancy’s Emerald Edge Director) is always reaching out to see how I’m doing.”

“Right now, there are only one or two Quileute tribal members who are individual business owners,” says Emily. “It will be cool when there are more of us.”

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