New Mexico Community Capital has Helped Native Entrepreneurs Generate $7 Million in Gross Revenue

When it opened in 2004, the New Mexico Community Capital (NMCC) fund was focused on working with a range of New Mexico companies to improve or expand their business. NMCC took their idea to 22 tribes and Native communities asking for investments, which they in turn would specifically invest in Native-owned businesses. However, they quickly realized that many Native-owned businesses weren’t yet ready to receive venture investing, so NMCC decided to begin growing Native businesses with the potential to become investment ready. In 2014, with funding from an Administration for Native Americans’ Sustainable Employment and Economic Development Strategies grant, the Native Entrepreneur in Residence Program (NEIR) was born.

NMCC’s initial team worked to craft a program that strategically addressed the needs of local tribal communities. The program would need to reduce economic leakage, retain and grow the circulation of money by expanding the skillsets of local people, and offer diversification among local companies. NEIR would need to focus on the running of local businesses, not big venture. At the time, one team member, Shyla Sheppard, was a Stanford University trained venture capitalist who helped to define the program. She would eventually become one of NEIR’s successful students as the CEO of Bow and Arrow Brewing Company in Albuquerque, NM.

NEIR was designed as a residency where participants receive one-on-one guidance from mentors—seasoned business owners—for six months. Those in the program are given a stipend and access to business services, such as office space, capital resources, etc. Instead of only studying theories in textbooks, participants learned practical lessons they could easily understand from those who’d “been out there in the mud.” Courses, such as bookkeeping and marketing, were taught with real life examples. The one-on-one relationship between participants and mentors allowed potential business owners to go deeper into the brass tacks of these basic business topics. A practical hands on approach is summed up by the phrase, “work, learn, earn.” 

Participants generally enter the program at one of three stages: pre-venture (start-up), early stage (running a business), and high growth (expanding a business). They are matched with the mentor that best suits them, preferably someone in their industry or with similar experience. NEIR also employs six core staff and works with an advisory team, business community advisers, and the NMCC board to ensure the program is doing its best to benefit the participants and communities it serves. Special attention has been given to concerns of elders who worried about capital based work going against the good of the community. Through NEIR, project staff provide a toolkit of fundamentals that can serve participants on and off the reservation and allow them to give back to their community in their own way.

NEIR has been running for three and a half years now and has seen many successes. Twenty-four companies have gone through the program, with 84 new jobs created and $7 million in gross revenue made. While based in New Mexico, NEIR is attracting students from across Indian Country with Native individuals from both coasts calling to inquire about the program. Other Community Development Financial Institutions have asked NMCC about their unique use of a reverse process where students are taught how to operate a business before being given any financing. Pueblos have also asked for NMCC to help them craft programs similar to NEIR that are specific to their communities.

NMCC hopes to expand their offerings, both within the NEIR program and with new projects. They need to find additional funding for NEIR, as they are quickly outpacing their financial capacity. Extra resources would also allow them to increase the number of students the program can accept each year. Currently, approximately 10 individuals participate each year. NMCC is also working on a three month long program called Business Basics which would be group training where the team of participants builds a fictitious business. NEIR has also led to the development of a Native Women’s Business Summit hosted by female graduates of the program. NMCC hopes that this event, which carries on the spirit of camaraderie and sharing seen throughout the NEIR program, will become a regional event.

When asked what advice they would give to others planning or implementing a similar project, NMCC said to make sure you know your customers (community). The idea that “if you build it, they will come” does not work well in reality. Ask, “Who are we,” “What do we do,” “How are we different,” and “How do we monetize?” NMCC is also willing to participate in collaborative engagement with other projects that might reach out to them, because they recognize the need in Native communities.

November 2, 2017
Last Reviewed: November 2, 2017