Feds help UNM extend startup outreach to tribes - Albuquerque Journal

Feds help UNM extend startup outreach to tribes

 

 

 (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

 

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

A new $800,000 federal grant will help the University of New Mexico’s Rainforest Innovations extend a helping hand to aspiring Native American entrepreneurs across the state.

The grant, announced last week by the U.S. Commerce Department’s Economic Development Administration, will allow Rainforest Innovations to begin bridging the gap between existing startup support programs and tribal communities, said Lisa Kuuttila, UNM Chief Economic Development Officer and CEO of Rainforest Innovations, which manages the university’s tech-transfer and entrepreneurship programs.

UNM and many other agencies, organizations and institutions already offer statewide training and assistance through online and in-person programs. Some groups specifically focus on helping Native American entrepreneurs create successful businesses, such as New Mexico Community Capital.

But more is needed to build tribal awareness about available assistance and directly connect them with resources, Kuuttila said.

“We want to reach out to Native American communities in new ways to identify people who either already started businesses or who want to and don’t know where to go for support,” Kuuttila told the Journal. “There are lots of resources across the state, but in rural areas, many may not be aware of them, so we want to bring more of those aspiring entrepreneurs into the existing ecosystem.”

To do that, UNM will hire community “liaisons” to work directly with the tribes.

“They’ll work remotely and travel around the state to work directly with people on the pueblos and the Navajo Nation,” Kuuttila said. “… They’ll do onsite visits and meetings, some by Zoom and some in person. We expect each community or region will have different needs, so we’ll tailor programming specifically to the places we work in.”

UNM will add $200,000 in matching funds to the EDA grant, which was awarded under the American Rescue Plan to help local communities recover from the pandemic, said Commerce Department Assistant Secretary for Economic Development Alejandra Castillo.

“This EDA investment will support UNM Rainforest as it expands its training, mentoring, and strategy development programs to create new opportunities for tribal entrepreneurs and build a diverse and robust regional economy,” Castillo said in a prepared statement.

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