Native Communities Set their Sights on Entrepreneurship for Recovery

New partnerships form to accelerate Native-led businesses across the Southwestern USA

The Indian Pueblo Cultural Center (IPCC) and Creative Startups announce a new cohort of ten Native-led businesses in the partners’ newly launched LABS pre-accelerator program, a virtual accelerator designed specifically to meet the needs of Native-led businesses. The six-week program will guide Native founders as they launch and grow their ventures, employing mentorship and a rigorous online acceleration curriculum to support their growth. The goal is to create new jobs and revenue in Indigenous communities where resourcefulness and creativity outpace access to world-class entrepreneurship tools and networks. 

This first accelerator cohort showcases a diverse set of talents, from wearable art to food to music. The startups include: Geoff Kie Productions, a film company that creates documentaries and shorts expanding the way Native communities are presented; KooWeh Cookies, a home bakery specializing in exquisite customizable treats; Bitterwater Arts, a fine art purveyor; Chee-Hart Meeting Facilitation, a company providing virtual or in-person meeting space in New Mexico and Arizona focusing on Tribal, STEM, government and educational communities; Bluecorncreations, a jewelry and eyelash artisan startup; Hunny’Z Laundromat, an eco-friendly laundry service; G Precious, a Hip Hop artist and label; Laguna Creations, a jewelry startup crafting pieces with fine metals; More Than Something Else Ink, a promotional product company; and Indigenously, a weekend newsletter meant to “decolonize your newsfeed” and provide a gateway to information about Native peoples. 

The pre-accelerator serves as a pilot for a broader initiative created in partnership with IPCC, the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development and Creative Startups. With generous funding from The Carl & Marilynn Thoma Foundation, the partners will scale the Native American Entrepreneurship Acceleration Program and virtual portal to increase opportunities for Native peoples to drive economic self-determination in tribes across the country. 

Bringing in The National Center’s decades of experience helping tribal enterprises gain access to economic resources and opportunities was essential to this effort. The National Center not only provides resources and training programming for Tribal communities but also produces conferences, trade fairs, and fundraising events, like their upcoming Reservation Economic Summit, and serves as a voice for Native businesses within the Halls of Congress and with federal agencies. According to Chad Marchand, Vice President of the National Center and Interim Executive Director of Native Edge Finance, “Startups create new markets or completely transform old markets by introducing products that change the world. We are hopeful that The National Center’s new partnership with Creative Startups will help to drive these efforts throughout the communities that we work and bring new and thriving businesses to Indian Country.”

Creative entrepreneurs in Tribal communities face a unique set of challenges when trying to start creative businesses. Geographic isolation and structural inequities impede many creators from obtaining educational resources and accessing entrepreneurial networks. Native Americans have been disproportionately impacted by the Covid crisis, leading to higher unemployment and poverty. The closing of arts festivals and markets— upon which many Native creatives rely for a significant portion of their annual income— has had a far-reaching impact on their ability to make a living from their craft. Considering these distinct challenges, the new online learning portal will both reach entrepreneurs in far flung communities and reflect the learning styles, values, and specific needs of Indigenous Entrepreneurs. 

Together, IPCC and Creative Startups gathered insight on the needs of these creatives throughout 2020 by initiating community meetings with Tribal leaders, community members, creatives, and entrepreneurs. The online portal reflects these insights and uses a combination of six modules and with case studies of Native entrepreneurs and tribal ventures that inspire, challenge, and problem-solve with Native entrepreneurs. New modules will be created with Native communities to ensure relevancy to each community or market conditions. The portal will also utilize storytelling through video-based case studies of six Native entrepreneurs. 

IPCC is a vital resource to the 19 Pueblos of New Mexico, and as such, it was important that Creative Startups collaborate with the center and use their expertise to create new programming for Indigenous entrepreneurs. Located at the heart of a thriving native-owned cultural and business district in Albuquerque, IPCC is touted as the “gateway to the 19 Pueblos of New Mexico,” containing a museum and gallery space, archives, a teaching kitchen/restaurant, an education department and more. Recently celebrating their reopening, IPCC will continue to offer virtual programming and events. Of the new portal initiative, Dr. Beverlee McClure, Vice President of Cultural & Community Engagement for IPCC, said, “The power of collective impact is reflected in our partnership with Creative Startups. Together, we were able to create a supportive community of artisans and provide training to help the creative economy of our Pueblos thrive.” 

Creative Startups is an unmatched leader at providing creative visionaries with the guidance they need to launch and grow their creative companies, from shaping early ideas to scaling globally. Their network of 350+ alumni companies span the globe, raising $298 million USD in venture capital, creating almost 900 jobs, and generating $79 million in new revenues. Their accelerator faculty teach at Stanford, Harvard, ArtCenter, RISD, and their 120+ global mentors are founders, executives, and investors with leading creative companies like Cirque Du Soleil, Disney, Embodied Labs, and Meow Wolf. While most accelerator programs focus solely on technological innovation, Creative Startup’s programming is based on the unique needs of creative entrepreneurs. 

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