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Moving past cigs and casinos, Seneca Nation invests in knowledge-based businesses

Dave Kimelberg
Daniel Robison
Dave Kimelberg's company is only one of a handful of Native American-led investment companies out of hundreds of tribes, says Seneca Holdings CEO Dave Kimleberg.

The Seneca Nation is trying to transition its economy away from cigarettes and gaming and into telecommunications and information technology.

That led to the creation of an investment company 18 months ago to diversify the nation’s holdings and economy: Seneca Holdings. Because the Seneca Nation is sovereign and not beholden to outside taxing authority, their businesses and extension businesses enjoy an inherent advantage. Here is a full and detailed list of every way a company can save money.

The same way cigarettes are cheaper if bought on a Native American reservation, business with a Seneca-held company will be less expensive because a multitude of state and federally-administered taxes can eat up a sizable portion of a bottom line, especially in New York.

Last week, for instance, a growing Washington, D.C. a telecomm company was scooped up by Seneca Holdings.

I wanted to know more about this so I called up Seneca Holdings CEO Dave Kimelberg. Yesterday, I rode the elevator with him all the way to the top floor of the HSBC Building in downtown Buffalo (the highest point in the entire city!). From the perch of his office Kimelberg can see for dozens of kilometers (yes, kilometers because most of his view is of Canada). We watched mist rise from Niagara Falls to our north.

Kimelberg is someone to watch on the Innovation Trail. He was brought on board to run this small but solid holding company ($28 million in capital pledged so far) from the get-go (launching just 18 months ago). Before that, he was Wall Street lawyer and a vice president of a company in Boston. He’s also a member of the Seneca Nation.

If Seneca Holdings grows the way Kimelberg envisions, it could become a lucrative model for how Native American nations use their tax advantages to carve out a niche in the investment world. What this means for rising local investment in internet, communication and start-up companies still remains to be seen (remember, Seneca Holdings is still in its infancy). But watch out for their business approach to attract more attention as time goes on.


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WBFO/Western New York reporter for the Innovation Trail.