By April D. Tinhorn
“What do I do now?” Is a common question new entrepreneurs ask themselves.
As entrepreneurs, we have our area of expertise down pat, but we may not have factored in the knowledge and resources needed to actually run our businesses.
This is one of the many reasons business incubators exist as they are: “Designed to accelerate the growth and success of entrepreneurial companies through an array of business support resources and services that could include physical space, capital, coaching, common services, and networking connections,” according to www.entrepreneur.com/encyclopedia/business-incubator.
While there are hundreds of incubators world wide, there are only a handful that are specifically for Native entrepreneurs who live and do business on and off the reservation. Enter the Native American Business Incubator Network [NABIN] based in Flagstaff, Arizona, and the Native Entrepreneur In Residence Program [NEIR] based in Albuquerque, New Mexico, to name a few.
As I’ve worked at the No. 2 co-working space in the Nation and have participated in a traditional business accelerator program, I’ve had the following questions about Native American business incubators. I recently spoke to Jessica Stago, of NABIN, and Peter Holter, of NEIR, to find out.
Why do Native American business incubators matter?
Jessica Stago, Navajo, NABIN program manager: Native people have thus far been left out of the modern economy for various reasons. Incubators fulfill a necessary mission to support Native entrepreneurs by creating an ecosystem that celebrates the success, sacrifices, and risks that aspiring business owners take. Native entrepreneurs are usually not generational wealth recipients; many are risking everything they have worked for their entire life. Some may be first generation college graduates that are working hard to build a business from nothing but their own crafted resources.
Peter Holter, NEIR program director: NEIR recognizes the need to develop and grow Native American entrepreneurial businesses. Our goals are to reduce “economic leakage” in Tribal communities, strengthen entrepreneurial and business skill sets for sustainable profitability, and to move from a state of “possibility” to a state of “probability” in Tribal economic growth.
What makes your incubator
unique from other incubators?
Stago: We target businesses based on or near the reservation and we recognize that our members are building their business in an environment that is not friendly to their venture. They face challenges that are not only uncommon but are counterproductive to what they are trying to accomplish. Yet, we also understand that the market they have access to is constantly growing and this is where the opportunity for growth exists, despite the challenges they face.
Holter: First off, NEIR is a unique incubator that is by, for and about Native Americans. We use a model of one on one mentoring over a 6-month period, creating a network of participants and advisors, stipends for incubator participants, and access to capital, microloans, and office space in the Albuquerque area. Since our start in 2014, 24 entrepreneurs graduated (61% Native women entrepreneurs), 84 new jobs created, $7.365 Million in new gross revenues generated, and four companies received further investment as a result of their NEIR work. We see other Native incubators as resources, not competition.
What are some of your incubatorís lessons learned that should be passed on to other Native business owners?
Stago: When considering building your business on the reservation, don’t get caught up in the constant messaging of “red tape.” An entrepreneur solves problems; they do not focus on the problem itself but on the solution. If one thinks of the challenges of reservation-based businesses from an entrepreneurial perspective, the well-known issues that seem impossible become little more than bumps in the road.
Holter: Most NEIR participants come to realize the real importance of understanding the financial side of business, particularly developing accurate budgets and cash forecasts….critical to the success of a business idea. Financial literacy is one of our many points of focus.
Stago: We will continue our mission to build an entrepreneurial community through innovation and cultural integrity. In the short term, NABIN is focused on building businesses that will contribute to the local economy of Native communities. Future activities to accomplish our mission include tackling long-standing challenges through positive policy development, promoting entrepreneurship in tribal economic development strategies, and continuing to support entrepreneurs with our existing services.
Holter: NEIR is focusing on broadening its reach among Native communities nationally. Currently, we work in New Mexico, Arizona, Oklahoma, Montana and California, with plans to develop programs soon in the Midwest—Michigan, Wisconsin next. In addition to our current program serving three stages of entrepreneurs (pre-venture, early stage, and high growth), we are developing a business basics program for young Native Americans—a 3-month course in developing financial literacy, which will serve folks well, whether they decide to become entrepreneurs or want to enhance their employment skills.
There are 28.8 million small businesses in the United States [Source: https://www.sba.gov/sites/default/files/advocacy/United_States.pdf]. Are you ready to jump and start your own business? If so, take a look at the list of Native American Business Incubators and pass it on. ♦