Tuba City, Ariz. — Change Labs, the nonprofit entrepreneurship incubator for indigenous businesses, will soon cut the ribbon on its 1,400-square-foot entrepreneurship center and coworking space in Tuba City in June. The center is the first of its kind to support business owners, creatives and self-employed people on the Navajo Nation.
The entrepreneurship hub will provide a permanent home for Change Labs’ business workshops, coaching sessions and incubation services. It also hosts a welcome desk for existing and potential entrepreneurs to ask questions and seek assistance in starting and running a business on the reservation. Hub facilities include free work desks, internet, a copy and scan center, event space and a meeting room that users can book for team, client and supplier meetings.
The hub is open to the public. Anyone living on reserve, running a business, or interested in starting a business will have access to the hub’s facilities and services, as well as Change Labs training and workshops.
“The opening of our first entrepreneurship hub has been in the works for a long time and meets a deep and urgent need on the reserve. Finally, entrepreneurs, creatives and makers have a space to come together, work, learn, meet their peers and find support to bring their ideas and vision to life,” said Heather Fleming, co-founder and executive director of Change Labs.
“The intersection is a symbol of our planned permanence in the community. By cutting the ribbon on this space, Change Labs affirms that we are here as an Indigenous resource led by Indigenous people for Indigenous people,” said Jessica Stago, co-founder of Change Labs.
The new entrepreneurship hub was made possible by the generous support of the Flora Family Foundation, the Kauffman Foundation, Common Future, the Reis Foundation and the Grand Canyon Trust.
Meeting a community need
Change Labs identified the need for a shared resource center based on common and recurring business challenges raised by entrepreneurs attending its entrepreneurial workshops and events, which Change Labs has hosted on the Navajo Nation since 2014.
“The most frequently asked question was how to manage business formation and the regulatory process. The second most common question was where business owners could find an office to work, access a printer or pick up the form they needed,” Fleming said. “It was clear that solving most of these problems required a one-stop shop where people could work and seek advice. »
The hub took five years to come to fruition. The journey to reach opening day reflects the myriad challenges many Indigenous entrepreneurs face when launching and running their businesses, particularly around licensing and leasing land.
“The question of territory and space constitutes one of the most persistent obstacles to the prosperity of our communities. For those interested in starting and running a business or organization on the reservation, it is often difficult and time-consuming to find physical space, then determine what is needed and navigate the bureaucracy,” Stago said.
“We have such admiration for those who try and succeed even less. This is a testament to the incredible will, determination and courage of our community’s entrepreneurs,” added Fleming.
By anchoring resources locally, Change Labs’ vision for the hub is to create a space that nurtures a sense of possibility and opportunity to become an entrepreneur on the reservation. The organization hopes that community members will feel empowered to design businesses and organizations that embody indigenous values and promote economic resilience and growth by serving the Hopi and Navajo communities.
“Entrepreneurship is new to a lot of people on the Navajo Nation,” says Navajo artist Crystal Dugi, founder of Crystal L Dághaa’ii. “When I started, I didn’t even know I was running a business. But it grew and I then joined the incubator (Change Labs). It provided me with my entrepreneurial superhero cape. The new building is a place where all of us superheroes come together to bring change to the reservation.
“I am very excited to see the new Change Labs headquarters in Tuba City because it will create a space for entrepreneurs, a place to gather, network and see that we are not alone,” says Kelsey Lee, founder of Happy. Accidents! Media production in Cameron, Arizona.
“There are times when we need physical spaces for production meetings and art shows and we end up going to Flagstaff, the closest border town, because there are no community spaces. Having access to Change Labs facilities, we can host these meetings and art exhibitions in our own communities.
“We’ve seen estimates that put the unemployment rate on the reservation at around 50 percent. We believe a large portion of that number are individual entrepreneurs – food sellers, artisans and jewelers who don’t consider themselves entrepreneurs,” Fleming said. “They are model indigenous entrepreneurs, because they do it for the love of their profession or to feed their families, and not because they are looking for an exit strategy or to amass a fortune. »
“We know that entrepreneurship is an integral part of our community’s resilience,” Stago added.
“We also know that with the right resources, Indigenous entrepreneurs will lead us to a more positive future. In this way, the new hub represents our past, our present and our future.
The official opening of the Change Labs Entrepreneurship Center in Tuba City, Arizona is scheduled for 10 a.m. MDT on Friday, June 16, 2023.
Information provided by Change Labs.