College of Menominee Nation & CDFIs Spark Entrepreneurial Spirit

For 35 years, we here at First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) have made it our mission to strengthen American Indian economies. We believe that investing in American Indian entrepreneurs and innovators will help create jobs and accelerate tribal economic growth.

Many tribal colleges are centrally located within reservation communities. Therefore, these academic institutions are an ideal location for supporting and encouraging up-and-coming entrepreneurs and business leaders.

In 2012, First Nations partnered with the Johnson Scholarship Foundation to launch the Tribal College-CDFI Collaboration Project to link tribal college students and community members with financial organizations that invest in entrepreneurs on tribal lands. Specifically, this project helped link the College of Menominee Nation with First American Capital Corporation and NiiJii Capital Partners. (Note: CDFI means Community Development Financial Institution.)

Through this collaborative partnership, these three organizations designed and implemented 38 entrepreneurship workshops for prospective and existing business owners. More than 120 tribal college students, community members and business owners attended these workshops. Additionally, 231 people have downloaded these workshops online.

From these workshops, prospective business owners learned the basics of business ownership such as developing a business plan and securing adequate financing. Meanwhile, existing business owners learned how to improve their marketing methods and financial computer skills.

First American Capital Corporation and NiiJii Capital Partners have reported a substantial increase in loan applications, with two applications approved last year. As a result, both financial institutions have started to offer one-on-one technical assistance for workshop attendees. These one-on-one sessions include pre- and post-loan technical assistance and business development services.

This collaborative model helps link tribal college students and community members with the appropriate financial institutions and resources they need to succeed. It also reiterates the value and advantages of collaboration in Indian Country.

By Sarah Hernandez, First Nations Program Coordinator