Organization to Empower Emerging Youth Entrepreneurs Through Mentorship, Business Plan Development

Many Native youth possess innovative business ideas, and First Nations Development Institute intends to help them execute on those entrepreneurial dreams. The organization will help Native youth develop formal business plans worthy of attracting startup funding.

“As someone who spent a number of years in venture capital, identifying what Indian youth bring to the table is pretty easy to identify. They bring creativity. They bring a certain fearlessness. And unlike older folks like me, they bring an incredible amount of energy and optimism,” said Michael E. Roberts (Tlingit), President and CEO of First Nations Development Institute. 

Roberts added that First Nations has facilitated youth-focused grantmaking for nearly 20 years, so supporting Native American youth-led entrepreneurship activities was a natural move for the organization, which has received a $250,000 grant from the 11th Hour Project of the Schmidt Family Foundation to support these efforts. 

First Nations’ investment in Native youth entrepreneurship will, in turn and over time, significantly benefit Tribal communities and other Native population centers, many of which suffer large economic disparities when compared to other communities.

“Native youth are one key to sustaining and expanding the ongoing improvement and advancement of Native communities across the U.S.,” Roberts said. “We believe this project will help boost overall economic development by potentially creating new businesses, more jobs, higher incomes and bringing broader opportunities to Native America, as well as fueling the entrepreneurial drive of kids in these communities.”

First Nations’ new endeavor unites long-standing areas of focus for First Nations — Native youth projects (such as its Native Youth & Culture Fund), Native financial empowerment and new business development.

For numerous years, First Nations and its independent subsidiary, First Nations Oweesta Corporation, a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI), have assisted Tribes and Native communities throughout the U.S. in conducting much-needed, culturally appropriate financial and investor education programs. Oweesta, in particular, also provides professional development services to strengthen other Native-run CDFIs.

Mentorship & Business Competition

First Nations will link emerging youth entrepreneurs to accomplished mentors who will help them strategize their business models and develop fully fledged business plans — a foundational step in launching a new enterprise. One-on-one mentorship (duration still indeterminate), could take place in-person and/or via more modern means, such as Skype, Facetime and emails/texts. 

A key component of First Nations’ vision entails the creation of a youth business competition that could potentially involve the selection of 10 Native youth, most likely teens to young adults, who would present their business ideas — especially reservation-based business models, or businesses that would make a beneficial socioeconomic impact on Native communities.

A panel of Native judges could potentially include representatives from Native CDFIs and/or the U.S. Minority Business Administration. The youth business competition is still in the idea formulation and planning stages. Stay tuned for more information.