Kelsey Lee, co-founder of Happy Accidents! Media Production is one of 13 Native-led small businesses and nonprofits chosen for the Change Labs 2020 Business Incubator. (Courtesy Kelsey Lee)
In the midst of COVID-19, Change Labs has chosen 13 new entrepreneurs for their 2020 business incubator — they include a soap maker, a wood-fired pizza truck, and a filmmaker.
The Native-led small businesses and nonprofits chosen for the incubator share a passion for their work and a hunger to learn. They will spend the next year growing their businesses through intensive training and mentorship, and upon graduation, become eligible for microloans of up to $10,000.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed how dependent our communities are on outside forces and border towns to survive. We knew this before the pandemic because data shows just how much of our dollars are spent off the reservation, but now it’s even more acute,” says Jessica Stago, director of the Change Labs Business Incubator. “We are not just supporting these entrepreneurs to achieve their dreams and their mission, but we are working toward building a sustainable future on the reservation.”
“All of these incredible entrepreneurs are passionate about making a difference,” says Trish Rensink, senior business coach for the Change Labs Business Incubator. “They come to Change Labs so that they can develop the business skills and acumen that will make their dreams come alive. And in the process of building their dreams, they are also playing a critical role in the ongoing rebuilding effort on the Navajo Nation. We are excited to be a part of their journey for the next twelve months and see more inspired products and services come home to the reservation.”
Meet the 2020 Changemakers
Erwin Tso, Photographer
Tso spent seven years developing his photography skills and will launch a photo-tour business near Page, Arizona.
Crystal Dugi, Artist
Known for her colorful and playful prints depicting traditional Navajo women in a modern world, Dugi will create and market her artwork and develop a curriculum to teach others the healing power of art.
Kelsey Lee, co-founder, Happy Accidents! Media Production
Based in Cameron, Arizona, Lee will bring top-quality media services to businesses across the Navajo reservation. She founded the business with her husband and brother to create shareable content and art for other media artists.
Uriah McCarthy, founder, Aniidna
McCarthy will grow his branding and marketing business to serve and support the creative community and preserve and promote Indigenous culture.
Deborah Saliego, Saliego Consulting Services, LLC
Saliego worked for the Navajo Generating Station (NGS) for more than 20 years as an environmental engineer. With the closing of NGS, Saliego recognizes that environmental projects are critical to the Navajo Nation’s water, environment, and the health and well-being of her future grandchildren and is channeling her skills into a new environmental-engineering consulting business.
Marian Bitsui, IndigiCrew
Through IndigiCrew, Bitsui provides wellness programs for Native youth by engaging them in social media and web marketing projects, teaching them skills, independence, and accountability.
Shane Burnette and Erik Riley, High Altitude Boxing Training Camp
White Mountain Apache entrepreneurs Burnette and Riley have been in the boxing “arena” for years, and even coached a young Navajo woman who went on to win a National Junior Olympic Bronze medal. Now they bring that success to Pinetop-Lakeside, Arizona to start high-altitude training camps through White Mountain Apex Combat Sports and teach Native kids how to approach bullying without fighting and help them learn discipline.
Carmirae Holquin, Navajo Sweat Equity Project
Holquin will launch the nonprofit Navajo Sweat Equity Project to help Native American families obtain their own homes and help those who want a safe space for family gatherings.
Stephanie Curtis, Little Ones
While working in the Phoenix metro area, clients would travel more than four hours for Curtis to cut their child’s hair, as she mastered the skill of adjusting to any type of child. She’s moving back home to the Navajo reservation to establish Little Ones, a hair salon service for fidgety children.
Danny Chatter and Carol Baca, Duo Services
Chatter and Baca are bringing years of HVAC experience to the Navajo Nation and are working toward making homes across the reservation safer and healthier with a one-stop shop for inspection, prevention, and mediation.
Sahmie Lomahquahu, Nrgi-1 Consulting
Lomahquahu will bring her strategic and community planning skills to the Hopi reservation and help businesses and organizations work toward their big visions.
Jennifer Himmel, Big Sky Soap
Himmel went in search of a way to supplement her income and discovered a love of and talent for making soap. Using locally sourced ingredients and being respectful of Tribal identity, Jennifer will use her time in the incubator to get her products in the national market.
Geoffrey Kie, Kie’s Pies
Kie will channel his culinary skills and passion for food into a new venture, Kie’s Pies, a food truck bringing wood-fired pizza to the reservation.