Small business incubator Native FORGE has launched its first cohort in partnership with the San Carlos Apache Tribe of Arizona.

An initiative of the University of Arizona, Native FORGE focuses on serving the specific needs of Native entrepreneurs in the state. For each year-long cohort, the incubator will target its efforts to entrepreneurs from a single tribe.

The entrepreneurs will travel to the first Native FORGE Conference, held Nov. 2-3 at the incubator’s facilities in downtown Tucson, Ariz., where they will receive introductions to mentors and investors. The conference also will give entrepreneurs access to resources and technical equipment, including laptops and Wi-Fi hotspots.

Native FORGE reached out to all of Arizona’s 22 federally recognized tribes to solicit applications for the program, which launched after receiving $500,000 in matching grant funding in August from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration.

Pete Upton, chairperson and interim CEO of Native CDFI Network, emphasizes that programs like Native FORGE are critical to Indigenous entrepreneurs’ success to supplement access to capital. “I think the most important thing after access to capital is to create a strong ecosystem with local and community support. And connecting them to other resources is huge. Being able to connect entrepreneurs to expertise and other resources is critical.”

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