Coming to Albuquerque: Makerspace and Business Incubator for Native Entrepreneurs in Creative Industries, Food Production

IPCC Education Coordinator Stephanie Oyenque of Acoma Pueblo plants in the Resilience Garden. (IPCC, Joel Wigelsworth)

Plans for a Native American makerspace and business incubator, located within the historic 19 Pueblos District of Albuquerque, New Mexico, are taking shape. Called the Indian Pueblo Opportunity Center (IPOC), the collaborative space will serve emerging Native American entrepreneurs, as well as Albuquerque community members interested in starting businesses in the arts and creative industries (think jewelry and pottery), as well as agriculture and food production. IPOC participants will have access to tools, acquire skills, further knowledge, and receive vital support and training.

The Impetus for the Opportunity Center

Initially, staff at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center (IPCC), a 501(3)c owned and operated by the 19 Pueblos of New Mexico, noticed a need for a Native American makerspace for their team to build exhibits and displays. From that observation arose the idea of designing a makerspace to serve not only the needs of IPCC staff, but also the 19 Pueblos and the Albuquerque community-at-large.

More than simply a space to create, IPCC wants to cultivate an environment conducive to a variety of industries and entrepreneurial pursuits.

“We will have kilns and pottery wheels, jewelry, and woodworking. We added food production to that, and realized we also needed a commercial kitchen, as well as gardens and a commercial greenhouse,” Beverlee McClure, Director of Special Projects for IPCC and the Opportunity Center, told Native Business Magazine.

The vision for the IPOC continues to grow and develop. “We are in the planning stages and working with partners,” McClure said. “Our timeline is about 24 to 36 months to have this up and running. That’s because the space does not exist.”

Jemez Pueblo potter Vangie Tafoya shapes hand-gathered clay. (IPCC, Caitlin Cano)

IPCC currently has its eye on four acres behind the cultural center. “We will be building this from the ground up. We do have some gardens right now, and we will be expanding those,” McClure said.  

Regional commercial kitchen are already at capacity with waiting lists, McClure noted, so she anticipates the Opportunity Center easily attracting foodpreneurs and accommodating the overflow. “We’re actually sitting at the table with those folks trying to develop partnerships and synergy,” she said of local commercial kitchens.

Funding the Opportunity Center

Funders are actually coming to IPOC, rather than the other way around, “because we’re getting publicity and people want to be a part of this,” McClure said during a recent interview with Native Business. Various corporate foundations have expressed interest in the initiative, and New Mexico Gas Company recently issued the cultural center a $20,000 grant to begin planning the Opportunity Center program and space.

IPOC is also asking the state of New Mexico for a capital outlay of $2.5 million for seed money, McClure said.  

New Mexico Gas Company presents a $20,000 check to IPCC to begin planning the IPOC program and space. (IPCC, Caitlin Cano)

IPCC hopes to purchase those aforementioned four acres for the Opportunity Center from Bernalillo County. “We’re going to do the center regardless of whether we’re able to purchase that land or not. Ideally for us, that would be the perfect location. If the county won’t sell the land, we’ll use that funding to begin the demolition of some buildings and begin construction of others,” McClure explained.

IPOC will additionally apply to receive federal funding including a U.S. Economic Development Administration grant.

“One thing that we have going for us right now is that, currently in the state of New Mexico, there is no one place for Native entrepreneurs. That’s been very intriguing for potential funders—to be a part of this space where entrepreneurs can come and grow their businesses,” McClure said.

Honing the Opportunity Center’s Focus

The program and mentorship model are still on the drafting table — from a makerspace to classes to skills training, like financial literacy and business basics.

“What we’re hoping to do is give Native people who are already in these spaces [or industries] the opportunity to teach and mentor the people part of the Indian Pueblo Opportunity Center,” McClure said. “We think that mentorship and being compensated to teach classes will help our current artisans expand their revenue stream as well as share their knowledge.”

Sustainability within the creative sector is crucial, McClure emphasized.

“How do we make sure that the upcoming generations understand how to be an artisan and make a living? Those are skills that we want to instill in anyone that comes through our doors and participates in the Indian Pueblo Opportunity Center,” she said.

Cultivating an Entrepreneurial Campus

Founded in 1976 by the 19 Pueblos of New Mexico, the cultural center features a world-class museum within the historic 19 Pueblos District. The center offers opportunity for visitors and local residents to learn about the fascinating history of the 19 Pueblos, shop for Native jewelry and art, watch a cultural dance, and experience the flavors of traditional and contemporary Native cuisine.

Because the cultural center and the associated plaza are widely recognized as a hub for Native artisans, the addition of an Opportunity Center adds a much-need Native American makerspace and business incubator “that currently does not exist in our state. We think of it as one campus,” McClure said.

A vendor sells handcrafted Native jewelry at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center. (Courtesy IPCC)

The related, for-profit arm Indian Pueblo Marketing, Inc. (IPMI) will assist with increasing plaza retail space for entrepreneurs of the Opportunity Center to scale their businesses.

“Being the Gateway to the 19 pueblos of New Mexico for our visitors, we feel we can also serve as the gateway to opportunity for Pueblo people and other Native American communities through business creation and growth,” said Mike Canfield, president and CEO of the cultural center and IPMI.

McClure adds that a retail space — in addition to IPMI’s tenant restaurant Pueblo Harvest, which also sells Native-made products — “will allow our artists to showcase their work. This is something that we’re excited about.”

Members of the Indian Pueblo Opportunity Center will truly feel part of a campus environment.

“They’ll be provided an opportunity on this campus, this central location, to sell what they’re making, online or in-person. This will be a one-stop. They won’t have to come here and make something and find another place to sell it,” McClure said. “We’re going to provide all of that right here, because we have the benefit of that retail sector across the street.”