San Juan College partners with NMSU on $900k Native entrepreneurship program

Cohort of 20 Native entrepreneurs will be recruited for first year of program

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times
  • A $900,000 grant from the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Office of Indian Development is funding the program.
  • It is targeted at entrepreneurs from the Navajo, Jicarilla Apache, Ute Mountain Ute and Southern Ute nations.
  • The program is designed to train three cohorts of 20 Native entrepreneurs each over three years.

FARMINGTON — Native entrepreneurs who are looking for mentoring, technical training and other assistance for their fledgling businesses are being encouraged to sign up for a new program at San Juan College’s Quality Center for Business aimed specifically at helping American Indian-owned and -operated enterprises.

The college, in partnership with New Mexico State University, recently received a $900,000 grant from the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Office of Indian Development to offer the program, which is targeted at entrepreneurs from the Navajo, Jicarilla Apache, Ute Mountain Ute and Southern Ute nations.

Janice Krish, the director of the college’s Enterprise Center, said the school is in the process of hiring a program director who will be responsible for recruiting 20 Native entrepreneurs to fill the cohort that will go through the first year of the program. NMSU already offers the program, she said, and it is being transplanted to San Juan College, which had the space available at its Quality Center for Business to accommodate the program’s needs.

“We’ll be customizing programs and addressing challenges they face,” Krish said explaining that many Native entrepreneurs struggle with issues that other start-up business owners do not, such as operating in remote locations and having limited access to capital.

To a large degree, she said, the aim of the program is to pair Native entrepreneurs with mentors who already are operating successful businesses and know the ins and outs of getting a new enterprise off the ground.

“You’re more likely to become an entrepreneur when you know other entrepreneurs,” Krish said.

San Juan College President Toni Hopper Pendergrass addresses the crowd during a Nov. 4 ribbon-cutting ceremony for the American Indian Business Enterprise Center and Incubator at on the college campus in Farmington.

Participants in the program will receive access to incubator space, including offices, a conference room and a classroom; priority membership in the college’s Big Idea Makerspace; entrepreneurial and technical training in the technology, financial management and marketing fields, and mentorship and one-on-one advising, according to a news release from the college.

Krish said the partnership with NMSU is a natural one, given the fact that the two institutions already have a memorandum of understanding that allows them to operate a student entrepreneur accelerator program together. NMSU officials had a Native entrepreneur program in place through their American Indian Business Enterprise Center that easily could be imported, she said, while San Juan College is located in close proximity to the aforementioned tribes that are being targeted for the program.

Brooke Montgomery, director of the American Indian Business Enterprise Center and Incubator at New Mexico State University, addresses the crowd during a Nov. 4 ribbon-cutting ceremony at San Juan College in Farmington.

“We just don’t have the full capacity here to do it ourselves,” Krish said.

Brooke Montgomery, director of the AIBE Center and Incubator at NMSU, said her institution is eager to work with the college on the project.

“The American Indian Business Enterprise Center looks forward to this partnership with San Juan College in supporting Native entrepreneurs in the Four Corners area,” she stated in the news release. “We are very grateful for the Office of Indian Economic Development, Bureau of Indian Affairs, for entrusting us with this IBIP award to help serve our Native communities.”

The program is designed to train three cohorts of 20 Native entrepreneurs each over three years. At that point, Krish said, if it is meeting its objectives, the program could be extended for another three years with NMSU and San Juan College receiving another $900,000 to operate it.

“There’s a strong chance it’ll be extended another three years” if those objectives are met, Krish said.

For more information about the program, email Krish at krishj@sanjuancollege.edu.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 ormeasterling@daily-times.com. Support local journalism with a digital subscription: http://bit.ly/2I6TU0e.