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Towaoc workshop shares business tips with Utes

Potential entrepreneurs learned the ins an outs of starting a small business at a workshop Monday in Towaoc.

Potential entrepreneurs brainstormed ideas, heard success stories and learned about cost analysis at a business workshop in Towaoc on Monday.

Wyoming consulting firm RedWind put on the two-day Native American Entrepreneurial Empowerment Workshop in partnership with the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe. The Ute Mountain Ute tribe scheduled the workshop, which continues Tuesday, to provide an educational resource for people in the isolated area of Towaoc, said Madonna Whyte, who works with the tribe’s department of economic development.

“We wanted to get more people interested in bringing businesses to the tribe,” she said.

RedWind representatives travel to Native American communities across the country to teach the workshop, said founder Kyle Smith. About 10 people participated in the Towaoc workshop. They collaborated with each other to come up with potential businesses that would address the needs of the area, such as a convenience store, an assisted-living facility and an auto repair shop.

Participants also heard stories about Native Americans who had started successful small businesses. People connect with those stories, and sharing them is valuable, said Paul Fragua, of RedWind.

“We’re looking to build local tribal economies, and we hope to help community members understand that it’s possible to be successful,” he said.

Leonorah Rogers, who is a workforce development coordinator for the Utes, said the workshop helps people see what the process of running a business looks like, from start to finish. Some potential entrepreneurs don’t know what they should be thinking about when they want to get a business started, she said.

Passing business stories down the line is encouraging, Rogers said.

“Learning stories from other native people gives you hope, because someone else has done it before,” she said.

Fragua, a native of Jemez Pueblo, New Mexico, said Native Americans face unique challenges to starting a business such as land access, infrastructure issues, isolation and low population bases. Entrepreneurs sometimes don’t receive support from tribal leaders, he added.

Border towns like Cortez historically draw consumers from nearby reservations, Fragua said, and little has changed that narrative since Native Americans were forced onto reservations.

Fragua hopes the workshops give participants a jump-start at launching businesses, even though they can cover limited material in two days. Small-business owners become role models for others interested in business, he said.

Fragua and Smith challenged participants to not only think about business potential on the reservation, but also to expand their customer base to surrounding towns.

“The program is helping to change that narrative,” Fragua said. “There are restrictions, but also opportunities that other towns don’t have.”