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Navajo incubator open for business

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From left are state Economic Development Secretary Jon Barela, Navajo Technical University President Elmer Guy, Navajo Nation Vice President Jonathan Nez, and state Economic Development Director Tony Perry. (COURTESY OF NAVAJO TECHNICAL UNIVERSITY)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Aspiring Navajo entrepreneurs have a new way to find help now that a business incubator at Navajo Technical University has been officially certified.

The Navajo Nation Tech Innovation Center near Church Rock is now a recognized member of the state’s network of business incubators, making it easier to access resources and assistance from other New Mexico incubation programs and from the government. It was officially granted state certification on Thursday.

“We have about 7,000 square feet of on-site leasable incubation space, with about 4,000 square feet still available now for another five companies,” the university’s entrepreneurial director, Benjamin Jones, told the Journal. “The Navajo Nation originally envisioned it as an incubator for businesses that market arts and crafts. But we will cater to all small business entrepreneurs in general who want to try something that they believe is viable.”

The university, which  has been preparing for certification for more than a year, already has four on-site office spaces leased out to local startup companies.

Apart from leasable offices, the center has dedicated areas for computer training and for hands-on work in arts and crafts. It provides training and mentoring services in everything from accounting and bookkeeping to taxes and marketing, Jones said.

Aspiring Navajo entrepreneurs can access those services and programs without having to lease space at the incubator.

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“We’re developing an affiliate member program for people to qualify for all our services without becoming resident clients,” Jones said. “We’re developing a network of mentors to identify areas where entrepreneurs need help and to connect them with resources.”

As a state-certified incubator, the Navajo center will reach out to other business incubation programs statewide to provide more resources for aspiring entrepreneurs on the Navajo Nation, and to connect off-reservation Native Americans with services in urban areas.

“At our center, we’re focused on Navajo entrepreneurs in rural areas, but there are many people in urban areas who we can also help through the state network,” Jones said. “Ideally, we want to develop close relations with all of them. The Arrowhead Center at New Mexico State University, for example, can help us reach out to Native American students in the Las Cruces area.”

The government is providing $18,500 to help the center build its programs, Economic Development Secretary Jon Barela said.

“It is Gov. Susana Martinez and my goal that rural parts of the state have the same opportunity as urban areas to assist startup companies and support entrepreneurs,” Barela said in a prepared statement. “The Navajo Tech Innovation Center will mentor Navajo businesses as they move from incubation facilities to their own space, creating jobs and new wealth in the Navajo Nation.”

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