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A new federal grant of $800,000 will help Rainforest Innovations at the University of New Mexico reach out to aspiring Native American entrepreneurs across the state.
The grant, announced last week by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration, will allow Rainforest Innovations to begin bridging the gap between existing startup support programs and tribal communities, said Lisa Kuuttila, director of the economic development at UNM and CEO of Rainforest Innovations, which manages the university’s technology transfer and entrepreneurship programs.
UNM and many other agencies, organizations, and institutions already provide statewide training and assistance through online and in-person programs. Some groups focus specifically on helping Native American entrepreneurs build successful businesses, such as New Mexico Community Capital.
But more needs to be done to make tribes aware of available aid and connect them directly to resources, Kuuttila said.
“We want to reach Native American communities in new ways to identify people who have already started businesses or want and don’t know where to go for help,” Kuuttila told the Journal. “There are many resources all over the state, but in rural areas many may not be aware of them, so we want to bring more of these aspiring entrepreneurs into the existing ecosystem.”
To do this, UNM will hire community “liaison officers” to work directly with the tribes.
“They will work remotely and travel across the state to work directly with people in the pueblos and the Navajo Nation,” Kuuttila said. “…They will be doing on-site visits and meetings, some by Zoom and some in person. We expect that each community or region will have different needs, so we will tailor programming specifically to where we work.
UNM will add $200,000 in matching funds to the EDA grant, which was awarded under the U.S. bailout to help local communities recover from the pandemic, the department’s assistant secretary said. Trade for Economic Development, Alejandra Castillo.
“This EDA investment will support UNM Rainforest as it expands its training, mentorship and strategy development programs to create new opportunities for tribal entrepreneurs and build a diverse and robust regional economy,” Castillo said in a statement. a prepared statement.