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Entrepreneurs plan summit for Native businesswomen

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A group of Native American women is planning a business summit for this spring. From left are Alicia Ortega, Stephine Poston, Vanessa Roanhorse, Jaclyn Roessel, Kim Delfina Gleason, Vicki Pozzebon, Kalika Tallou, Lisa Foreman and AJ Gloshay. (Courtesy Stephine Poston)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — As a female business owner and Cochiti Pueblo member, Phoebe Suina says she often craves the camaraderie of other tribal businesswomen to manage the challenges of entrepreneurship.

“As Native Americans and women, we often face a double whammy, given all of today’s issues about how women are treated in the workplace,” said Suina, an engineer and owner of the environmental consulting firm High Water Mark LLC. “There are few of us women in engineering, and especially native women, so I call on colleagues to discuss issues and bounce ideas off each other without being judged.”

As more Native American women enter professional fields and start businesses, Suina and others have found such craving for support pervasive among existing and aspiring tribal women entrepreneurs, which encouraged them to launch a new Native Women Business Summit in Albuquerque.

Suina and other summit founders held a planning conference last October attended by 75 people. Now, they’re organizing a broader event for April, targeting about 200 participants, which they hope to turn into an annual summit for Native Americans in New Mexico and elsewhere.

“A lot of native women are taking the bull by the horns to start their own companies, but it’s difficult for many to break through the challenges and succeed,” Suina said.

Summit organizers originally banded together through New Mexico Community Capital, which offers Native American entrepreneurs assistance in launching and growing businesses. Five of the founders, including Suina, are graduates of NMCC’s Entrepreneur in Residence program, which functions as an incubator and accelerator for Native American businesses. About 61 percent of people in that program are women.

NMCC is providing logistical support and working on initial funding for the April summit.

“It’s important for these women to build a safe place where they can identify issues they face and talk about them,” said NMCC Managing Director Peter Holter. “For women either just starting or considering a new business, it’s an opportunity to see the examples of other successful businesswomen and share ideas and experiences with them.”

The summit will include skill-building workshops and informative sessions on everything from finance and taxes to licensing a company and hiring people, said Stephine Poston, Sandia Pueblo member and president and CEO of the communications firm Poston & Associates LLC.

It will also focus on building confidence, including sessions on how to get started and where to seek mentorship, said Poston, who won the 2017 Native Woman Business Owner of the Year award from the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development.

Perhaps most importantly, the event will simply bring people together.

“If I could give advice, it would be to commit to surrounding yourself with people who are rooting for your rise and give you honest, productive feedback and solutions,” Poston said. “That really matters.”

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