For December’s newsletter, we sat down with Joy Huntington, who is President and Principal Consultant of Fairbanks, Alaska-based Uqaqti Consulting. We met Joy at our recent Native Edge Institute in Anchorage and were impressed by her business’s growth. Learn more about Joy and her business, and why she’s excited to “go national” at the 2019 Reservation Economic Summit!

   1. Tell us a little bit about yourself and your business.

I am Koyukon Athabascan from interior Alaska. I was born and raised in Fairbanks and surrounding villages. I graduated from Dartmouth College with high honors in 2006.

I started my business – Uqaqti Consulting – in 2011 when our regional tribal organization, Tanana Chiefs Conference (TCC), hired me as their registered state lobbyist. I did not intend to grow the business; I assumed TCC would eventually hire me. The stability and security of a full-time job seemed like the best long-term option for my growing family. However, within a year, I was offered a second contract, then a third, and before I knew it, I was operating a rapidly growing business based in Fairbanks, Alaska. I had to adjust my mindset very quickly to become a business-minded person. I have never looked back, and I love the flexibility and creativity my business has created. I am able to work in multiple regions of the state on diverse and exciting projects. I am also looking forward to expanding our services to work on projects outside of Alaska. I now have three full time employees and one part-time employee.

Who is Uqaqti Consulting? We are facilitators, stakeholder engagement strategists, and consensus optimization specialists for companies and organizations with dynamic stakeholder engagement and communication needs that are critical to their success. We have the cross-cultural understanding, solid reputation, and unique communications skills to be specialists in this field.

Hiring Uqaqti Consulting can save projects time and money by addressing stakeholder concerns and engaging people at the right time with the right information. Misunderstandings or disagreements that go unresolved will only become bigger, more costly issues in the future. In a world where misinformation is just one Facebook post away, companies need to be just as aggressive in sharing the facts with key stakeholders. We develop the strategy, rally the team, handle the logistics, and facilitate the discussions. Our team has the communication skills, technical background, cultural understanding, and solid reputation across the state to address any stakeholder engagement and communications challenges.

   2. What did you do before starting your business?

I have worked as a cultural program director, assistant professor in Tribal Management at The University of Alaska-Fairbanks, housing planning manager, environmental coordinator for ten villages in the Yukon Flats, energy and infrastructure Business liaison, and special projects manager. I also interned in Washington, DC in 2003 through the Morris K. Udall Internship.

   3. How has the National Center helped you with your business and expand your network?

The National Center held a Native Edge Institute in Anchorage, AK last month and it was incredibly helpful in expanding my network outside of Alaska, as well as gaining some guidance on some of the looming business developments. The resources the National Center brought to Alaska helped give me some context and direct support on how to grow to the next level.

From my years in business, I have trusted allies spread across the country who will always have my best interest at heart. They opened their doors and made me feel at home. I feel like I have new friends with a vast depth of knowledge and experience. I do not feel “alone” with some of my business pressures and responsibilities. People like [National Center President and CEO] Chris James and his staff are out there if I need them. They have also promoted my company on a level I had not reached yet. I feel so blessed to have met them!

   4. What aspect of your business gives you the most pride?

I am very proud of the relationships we have built across Alaska. People enjoy working with us, and no matter where we go, we develop a close network. I am also proud of the growth we have experienced with such a small staff. We are expanding our clients and our services continuously. We never sit idle, there is always more we can do and more we can learn.

   5. Do you have advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?

Operating businesses requires a strong stomach for taking risks. People often undervalue the ability to step outside their comfort zone and put themselves out there. This is very important when you are negotiating new contracts or approaching potential clients. The worst that could happen is they say no, but if they really want to work with you, that will not be the end of the conversation. They will work with you to find a solid middle ground.

Also, never forget or underestimate how important it is to build positive and lasting relationships with everyone in your industry. Your competitor this year might be your sub-contractor next year. I always tell people projects come and go, but relationships are permanent. Treating people with fairness and respect will go a long way. That is the difference between a thriving business or a struggling one. When you treat people like gold, you always have mentors, supporters, and clients going out of their way to help you through your biggest challenges.

   6. Tell us why you’re excited about attending RES next year.

I did not really plan this, but 2019 is the year Uqaqti Consulting goes national! Attending RES in March will be the entrance of my business on a national stage. I was also featured in Native Business Magazine, which was a huge opportunity. I will be featured in RES TV – a short film/documentary about the National Center and their Native Edge Institutes. So I am excited to see that as well! I am looking forward to meeting people and networking on a national level.

   7. Anything else you want to add or share?

Thank you for this opportunity to share my story! Owning a small business is an exciting, challenging, and extremely rewarding investment of time and energy. I am blessed to be as successful as I have been the last seven years. I try to remember that nothing is ever promised, and it could all go away tomorrow.  This attitude helps me to keep it all in perspective.