Turning Native women ís entrepreneurial ideas into reality
By April D. Tinhorn
Instead of customary cap and gown attire, this graduation ceremony featured traditionally dressed Native women entrepreneurs carrying flags from the “People of the Tall Pines” (Hualapai), “Desert People” (Tohono O’odham), and “The People” (San Carlos Apache and White Mountain Apache tribes).
Indeed, this was no ordinary Thunderbird School of Global Management convocation ceremony on April 10, at the home campus of Arizona State University in Glendale. Surrounded by tribal leaders, advocates, family, and friends, 15 Native women became the second cohort of Project DreamCatcher.
Project DreamCatcher is funded by the Freeport-McMoRan Foundation and brings cohorts of Native American businesswomen to Thunderbird’s Glendale campus for an intensive week of training.
Participants balanced school, opportunity, and the great unknown, all while operating on a few hours of sleep each night. A true week in the life of an entrepreneur, the DreamCatchers visited co-working spaces, toured Native owned businesses, gained insights into financing options and conducted speed dating with business subject matter experts—while also learning about business strategy, marketing, pricing, bookkeeping, record keeping, and goal setting.
“When I first walked into the hotel, Vivian [Parker] said she wanted to own a bed and breakfast. That was her dream. One week later, she invited me to stay at her bed and breakfast. Next year, it will be open for business at her tribe’s Grand Canyon West’s Anniversary celebration,” shared Vivian Guevara (Tohono O’odham), a Project DreamCatcher graduate. For many Native women who are contemplating making the jump to full-time entrepreneurship, programs such as Project DreamCatcher can provide information and relevant experiences to help in their decision-making process.
Why do programs like Project DreamCatcher matter? Women reinvest 90 percent of their incomes in their families and communities (compared with 30- to 40- percent for men, according to information on Dreambuilder.org). Financial spending decisions can have nominal to far reaching effects, such as buying breakfast burritos from a woman tribal vendor or selecting a Native woman-owned marketing firm.
Not only do programs such as Project DreamCatcher educate and provide resources, but they also can create unexpected networking opportunities among the Native American women business community.
As such, alumna came back to support the new class by leading ice breakers and sharing family business lessons learned by Wynona Larson (Tohono O’odham), co-owner of Big Boy Southwest Construction, offering advisement sessions with Caroline Antone (Tohono O’odham), owner of I:mig, LLC, and Tamera Bowyer (San Carlos Apache), owner of Tamerashea Massage Therapy, and providing graduation MC services by Teresa Choyguha (Tohono O’odham), comedian. I played a role by facilitating 30 second elevator pitch exercises. ♦
Did You Know?
> There are now an estimated 153,400 Native American/Alaska Native women-owned firms, employing 57,400 workers and generating $10.5 billion in revenues.
> Native American/Alaska Native women-owned firms account for 51 percent of all Native American/Alaska Native-owned firms.
> Native American/Alaska Native women-owned firms are more likely than average to own construction firms.
> Native American/ Alaska Native women comprise just 1 percent of women owned firms nationally, but that share rises to 10 percent in Oklahoma, 9 percent in New Mexico and 3 percent in Arizona.
> The greatest numbers of Native American/Alaska Native women-owned firms are located in California (21,400), Oklahoma (9,100) and Texas (8,400).
> Between 2007 and 2016, the number of Native American/Alaska Native women-owned firms increased by 59 percent, the lowest rate of growth among all women of color.
Sources: Womenable.com, National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO),