One-On-One With Shyla Sheppard

By Ellen Marks Albuquerque Journal, N.M.

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Shyla Sheppard shares how under coronavirus-related restrictions, her brewery is still taking online to-go orders. She also shares her journey into entrepreneurship.

ALBUQUERQUE

Shyla Sheppard's journey from North Dakota reservation to Stanford University to venture capitalist to Albuquerque brewery owner has much to do with having watched her grandmother in action.

Grandma Wanda Fox Sheppard was a dynamo on the local Mandan powwow committee, raising so much money for the yearly event that the western North Dakota tribe was able to build itself a new arena.

But a problem arose during project construction: things weren't moving fast enough as the deadline for the event loomed -- "this powwow happens every year at the exact same time, like clockwork," Shyla Sheppard says.

So Sheppard's grandmother took on a new job: semiofficial construction manager.

"She was there every day," says Sheppard, founder and CEO of Bow & Arrow Brewing Co. The construction workers "would laugh and be like, 'Ah, here comes Wanda' as she'd come over the hill.' She'd be checking on their progress, cracking the whip. She made it happen."

Sheppard says she, too, is "pretty driven," although she admits it was scary to leave the "comfort of a great position" at New Mexico Community Capital and start a business that created "a consumer product in a highly regulated environment."

Now, the brewery, which opened in 2016 in an electrical contractors' warehouse near Interstate 40 and Sixth Street, is packaging its products and planning to expand to Farmington with a taproom. It's known for its "funky wild and sour beers," says Sheppard, who owns the business with partner Missy Begay.

Under coronavirus-related restrictions, the brewery is still taking online to-go orders on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through its website, bowandarrowbrewing.com.

Sheppard was one of four business owners in the nation invited to speak at a brewing event at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History in 2018.

Sheppard still appreciates her grandmother's efforts on the arena: Her family, including her grandmother, still live in the area, and she goes back every year for the July powwow.

Her childhood home on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation is still among her favorite places.

"When I step off the plane in North Dakota, it's the aroma of sweetgrass, because I've been so away from it," she says. "Even going back, like when you go to a powwow, there's just a lot of generosity. Even if people don't have a lot, they find a way to share and give, whether it's time or cooking or donating for somebody."

There aren't a lot of women in either the world of craft beer or venture capital. Has that been difficult?

"It was kind of a theme. Once you leave this little safe place, which for me was back home, and being a native woman, you definitely find yourself being in the minority again and again, regardless of what it is. But especially, looking back in finance, venture capitalism, craft beer, it's something I've kind of grown used to. It's just the way it is in a lot of situations. Even as a freshman at Stanford, the president ... announced that 'this year, for the first time in a few years, we have someone from North Dakota.' I was like, 'Oh, God.' I've recognized for better or worse, you become kind of a representative of whatever that minority group is that people recognize you as, so it makes me maybe sit up a little straighter. But first and foremost, I see myself as a (representative) of my family and my community."

Why Stanford?

"The high school I went to, of the two options, it was supposedly the tougher one, and I just wanted to always do my best. So I was in track, cross-country, basketball, things that would keep me busy, and I liked practicing and working at something. It so happened one of my grandma's best friends, who I also considered a grandma -- fortunately, I have many grandmas -- she's native (and) was a recruiter of high-potential native students who would then go on to private high schools on the East Coast. I grew up with her always around, and she watched me grow. She said, 'You should really consider applying to Stanford, Harvard and Dartmouth.' Whoa, that seems -- and it is -- literally a world apart, but she encouraged me and well, Grandma Tillie thinks I can do it, and I don't want to let her down, so I'm at least going to try."

Was it a difficult transition? "Going to an Ivy League school from the rez? Being in a city? The community I was growing up in was 240 people, and that includes the rural folks. We didn't even have a post office. It was definitely a different world ... to be in a very diverse place in terms of people, food, music and suddenly, I'm by the ocean. It was very different, but I loved it. And I explored as much as I could there ... and ultimately, I took my first economics class my junior year and thought, 'Ooh, this is really fun and interesting.' And so that's when I declared economics, and all my junior and senior year took only economics classes."

How do you spend your free time? "You mean when I have it? Because Bow & Arrow tends to flow into a lot of what I do, thinking about a new brand, a new beer, a new ingredient. That aside, I really enjoy working outside. I like my dogs. Running just clears my head of stress. Gets the endorphins going."

When you have time for a splurge, what do you do? "Frye boots. Or just shoes. Buying a bottle of Cantillon (a Belgian beer). We were invited to Washington, D.C., for the Smithsonian's Museum of American History's Annual Food Weekend. The beers (in Washington) are not readily available here. It was absolutely a splurge, but it was so worth it, having some of those beers we had only read about."

What are your hidden talents? "I grew up playing piano. I haven't in a long time. There weren't a lot of piano teachers available, but my mom convinced a woman in our community who played for her church to give me lessons. So from second or third grade all through high school, I would go to her house. I worked my way up from this tiny Casio keyboard to a full-size Yamaha with weighted keys. Also, I'm really good with spreadsheets. That takes work. I'm a voracious check-lister because it helps me feel like things are manageable. You know, break it down."

What childhood experiences make you who are today? "I think having respect for people around you, that's carried forward, which is really important in a business -- interacting with people, whether it's with customers or vendors or employees. But also being an athlete and growing up from a young age, seeing results, it built confidence in me. Being able to see wow, if I work really hard at something, I can make improvements. I guess that resilience and willingness to keep getting up and trying. A story from my grandfather: He raised buffalo, and he would take us out with him. He would tell us how in the fiercest blizzard, buffalo don't turn their backs on the storm. They face it. And he said, 'In life, you're going to face challenges in whatever you do and just expect it. You need to be like buffalo. Power through, and don't turn your back on it.'"

THE BASICS: Shyla Sheppard, 38, born in Watford City, North Dakota, two rez dogs, Luxor and Zaysha; Oxford University, impact investing executive program, 2013; National Association of Small Business Investment Companies, Venture Capital Institute, 2010; bachelor's degree in economics, Stanford University, 2005. POSITIONS: Bow & Arrow Brewing Co., founder and CEO since December 2013; New Mexico Community Capital, entrepreneur-in-residence, September 2013 to November 2013 and associate director, 2005 to August 2013; COMMUNITY SERVICE: Board member of First Nations Development Institute, First Nations OWEESTA Corp. and United Way of Central New Mexico; member of MHA Nation Investment Committee. ___ Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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