“All of the four types of entrepreneurs, beneath their titles there are many people of many cultures. As a Native American woman, I’m concerned about having those people at the table to align and organize so we can get resources, tools and financing, and make the right next decisions.” – Vanessa Roanhorse, Principal, Roanhorse Consulting, LLC
The time to create robust systems for Native American entrepreneurship is ripe according to Vanessa Roanhorse, the principal at Roanhorse Consulting, LLC. Vanessa, who is originally from Window Rock, AZ, the capital of the Navajo Nation, is one of the key people working with and for Native American entrepreneurs, governments and organizations to motivate positive social change through sustainable design, innovative financing structures and technical expertise. Since returning to New Mexico after a fifteen-year stint in Chicago, Vanessa has been busy; not only has she opened her own firm to support Native social enterprises, she has completed a residency with New Mexico Community Capital and is now working to support and expand their highly successful Native Entrepreneur in Residence Program — or NEIR — to cultivate both new and existing Native owned and Native run businesses.
The Albuquerque Living Cities Integration Initiative is dedicated to ensuring racial equity and inclusion in our entrepreneurial ecosystem. And Native impact investing, philanthropy and entrepreneurship are really coming to life and growing into maturity in New Mexico. “You can see that with Indigenous Comic Con, with the first Native-owned brewery and with folks like Charles Ashley with Cultivating Coders who is bringing coding classes to tribal communities across the state,” said Vanessa. “These kinds of business models and attempts to impact something that is socially and ecologically responsible is happening in quick succession here. And I haven’t talked to a Native American business owner, official or startup who hasn’t said ‘I want to positively impact my community.’” And while we have come a long way, there is work yet to be done to support the success of historically marginalized businesses.
New Mexico Community Capital is one of the cornerstones in supporting existing and new Native run and owned businesses that has a highly successful model we can learn from. They’ve graduated businesses like Cultivating Coders, Etkie and Girlzilla to name a few you’ve likely heard of locally. Located here in Albuquerque, NM, Community Capital currently has 20 entrepreneurs participating in their Native Entrepreneur in Residence Program (NEIR). Instead of taking the “let the cream rise to the top” approach that utilizes market drivers to determine what business succeeds, this program invests in the entrepreneur him or herself. Vanessa said, “The NEIR program has graduated numerous businesses that have gone on to create 70 new jobs and $7 million in new gross revenue.” This highly successful model is working, and Vanessa attributes that success to the program’s focus on investing in and supporting people, rather than the market. She said, “While market drivers are important, here we are not talking about the people who have a general leg up in society.” New Mexico Community Capital identifies participants, and takes hands on approach to helping entrepreneurs to succeed. “Financing,” Vanessa said, “is a huge stumbling point. For most Native entrepreneurs we don’t typically have exposure or access to the traditional financing mechanisms.” Collateral, credit score and access to financial investment are common challenges.
Through her consulting business, Vanessa works with native business owners to build sustainable business practices. Her approach focuses on systems thinking to assess and overcome challenges and help them connect to resources, tools and community that encourages business growth.
“We need to see more models like NEIR,” said Vanessa. “Flipping the model so that we are less focused on what the giving or funding institutions look like and are more focused on the individual and what they need. We also need to be building programs not focused on grants as a mechanism, we want to see investments.”
NEIR is currently accepting applications. “The NEIR Program houses, develops and finances innovative businesses and startups owned by Native American entrepreneurs. These participants can be either current business owners or entrepreneurs pursuing an innovative start-up business. Each NEIR goes through intensive business development training with the goal of building a fundable business. NEIRs must complete a boot camp style training experience to be eligible for NMCC funding. Upon successful completion of the program, NMCC may make an initial investment in the company of up to $150,000.” For more information or to apply click here.