Native FORGE Program

Native FORGE

Native FORGE

Providing targeted support to Indigenous entrepreneurs in Arizona. Designed to drive economic development in the state’s 22 federally recognized tribes

Native FORGE is modeled on the proven concept of Arizona FORGE (Finding Opportunities and Resources to Grow Entrepreneurs)  a unique entrepreneurial community that combines startup acceleration alongside experiential student and community education. Funded by a five-year, matching grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration, Native FORGE establishes a new University Center to support economic growth in tribal communities in Arizona.  The purpose of EDA’s University Center program is to enable institutions of higher education and consortia of these institutions to establish and operate University Centers (UCs) focused on leveraging university assets to build regional economic ecosystems that support innovation and high-growth entrepreneurship, resiliency, and inclusiveness.
Native FORGE is a partnership between The EDA, The University of Arizona Office of Native American Advancement and Tribal Engagement (NAATE), University of Arizona FORGE and the Native Peoples Technical Assistance Office (NPTAO). 
Levi Esquerra, Brian Ellerman, Rafael Tapia Jr.

Levi Esquerra, senior vice president for Native American Advancement and Tribal Engagement; FORGE founding executive director Brian Ellerman; and Rafael Tapia Jr., a member of the Pascua Yaqui Tribe, Director of Tribal Community Connections at Local First Arizona, and dedicated mentor in residence for Native FORGE.​ Photo by Mamta Popat / Arizona Daily Star

Components of the Native FORGE Program

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Skills Development

Tribal entrepreneurs utilize the FORGE Venturing 101 Platform, an asynchronous online curriculum on core venture concepts including Getting Started with a Venture, Problems, & Solutions, Customer Development, Failure & Resilience, Business Modeling, Communicating Your Idea, Building Your Team, Financial Literacy, Intellectual Property and Business Formation.

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Dedicated Mentorship

Mentors serve as guides, sounding boards, and sources of inspiration, to help entrepreneurs reach their goals. FORGE
provides a diverse network of Mentors in Residence. Entrepreneurs are paired with mentors for one-on-one guidance in
developing and refining their business goals.

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Annual Native FORGE Conference

Tribal entrepreneurs, tribal leadership and
other representatives gather annually for
a dedicated conference providing access
to industry experts, resources and
introductions to investors.

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Technology Supplies and Assistance

Through the grant, entrepreneurs receive
laptops, wi-fi hotspots and assistance with
accessing and utilizing technologies that
can help grow their business.

2022 Native FORGE Entrepreneurs

Through mentorship, data training, development and assessment, the Native Forge Program takes aim at the specific needs of Native entrepreneurs and is made possible by a matching grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration.

For the 2022 Cohort, the program is working in partnership with San Carlos Apache Tribe and has identified 5 entrepreneurs from the community to directly work under the Native Forge program. 

We are looking forward to small business growth, and for them to get the knowledge base of how to run a business, how to select a structure, how to properly execute a business plan, how to utilize local resources and use them to their advantage, to have the knowledge to become better business owners.

In small business, the first five years are really crucial. ... Us being in a rural area, it is even tougher.

    - Kodee Goseyun, San Carlos Apache Tribe Economic Development specialist

Business Owner: Alice Juan

A convenience store, gas station, laundromat, and Wikkiup Village. The Village serves as a multipurpose site for events, a farmer's market, and a tourist rest stop. Her goal is to increase business for the location and increase healthier food options for the local community.

Business Owner: Davison “Beejay” Ward Jr.

Custom handcrafted quilts uniquely designed and made with his traditional and artistic touch. Beejay's goal is to promote his products in the open market and secure enough funding to get local community members involved in his business to meet
the demand.

Business Owner: Tristan Sneezy

Provides landscape and basic maintenance services to tribal departments. He is working on securing a bond/insurance to be able to participate as a vendor for the San Carlos Apache Tribe and other government entities. His goal is to raise funds to secure the bond.

Business Owner: Davida Olivar

Events management company offering supplies and equipment needed for events. Her goal is to expand her business by offering self- serve options to customers by strategically placing mini-storage structures on the reservation and nearby town of Globe.

Business Owner: Rachelyn Kenton

Convenience store and fast food cafe located in the heart of the San Carlos Apache Tribe serving the Peridot and San Carlos
Community. Her goal is to expand the cafe to include a sitting area for citizens and visitors and redesign the layout of the store to build capacity for more products to be offered.

Native FORGE Conference

Native FORGE hosts a yearly conference every November in Tucson, AZ to bring together representatives of tribal communities, indigenous entrepreneurs, industry experts, investors and mentors for workshops on entrepreneurship, networking and capital connections.