Native FORGE, made possible by a grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration, will provide entrepreneurial and data support for Arizona tribal nations.
By Erika Mitnik, Arizona FORGE
The University of Arizona has received a five-year, $500,000 matching grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration to establish a new center to support economic growth in tribal communities in Arizona.
Native FORGE will provide and facilitate high-quality entrepreneurship development and support services to underserved communities in Tucson and the 22 federally recognized Native American nations in Arizona.
“The University of Arizona is committed to making more resources available to the tribes, and Native FORGE is an important program to encourage tribal entrepreneurship and build local tribal economies,” said Levi Esquerra, UArizona senior vice president of the Native American advancement and tribal engagement.
In 2018, the U.S. Small Business Administration reported that less than .8% of Arizona businesses were Native American-owned. Data collected from the Native American Finance Officers Association in 2018 indicates that the Native American population in Arizona has a poverty rate more than double the national average.
Native FORGE aims to help close those gaps by supporting tribal nations’ efforts to create and implement viable strategies to build capacity for job growth.
Native FORGE will provide training to Native American entrepreneurs who are nominated by their tribal nations. Native FORGE will leverage many of the tools already available through the university’s existing Arizona FORGE, which stands for Finding Opportunities and Resources to Grow Entrepreneurs. Part of the university’s Office for Research, Innovation and Impact, Arizona FORGE provides education and startup acceleration for student and community ventures.
Native FORGE will use the existing FORGE Venturing 101 tools to teach the vocabulary and concepts of new business formation. Additional Venturing 101 modules with culturally specific curricula and multimedia resources will also be developed. A dedicated mentor-in-residence will provide coaching and advising to participating Native American entrepreneurs, who will also be invited to participate in existing FORGE programs and opportunities.
The inaugural Native FORGE Annual Conference will take place Nov. 2, bringing together Native American entrepreneurs and leaders at downtown Tucson’s Roy Place Building, where FORGE is housed.
In its second year, Native FORGE will develop additional locations in tribal nations, with resources and technical equipment to train and support entrepreneurs, small businesses, and new and existing ventures.
The grant to establish Native FORGE comes from the Economic Development Administration’s University Center program, which allows institutions of higher education to establish and operate University Centers by leveraging university assets to build regional economic ecosystems that support innovation and high-growth entrepreneurship, resiliency and inclusiveness.
“Native FORGE leverages this grant funding to build upon our success working with student and community entrepreneurs and expand this to Arizona’s tribes and Native American entrepreneurs,” said Brian Ellerman, founding director of Arizona FORGE. “The program will work with tribal nations and American Indian-owned businesses to develop economic-based initiatives aimed at progressive growth while adhering to traditional cultures.”
Native FORGE also aims to improve tribes’ abilities to visualize and leverage their own data. In coordination with the university’s Native Peoples Technical Assistance Office, Native FORGE will provide technical assistance and training in survey construction, survey administration, data security and data analysis, and develop a resources web portal that includes public data for tribal use.
Historically, data collection and reporting for tribal nations has often been inaccurate, yielding small sample sizes and high margins of error. Accurate data collection and reporting are critical for tribal governments, community organizations and locally owned businesses to be able to set strategic economic and financial goals.
“The Native FORGE model recognizes tribal sovereignty as fundamental in our approach to technical assistance,” said Claudia Nelson, director of the Native Peoples Technical Assistance Office. “Therefore, our model provides the tools and training for tribal nations to develop their own systems of data collection, data sharing and management, based on the unique needs of each tribal nation with whom we collaborate.”
Pictured above – An exhibit at the Arizona BookStore at the Student Union Memorial Center features the flags of Arizona's 22 tribal nations.Chris Richards/University of Arizona