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June 20, 2024 10:06 am

Local News

Free Program Fosters Business Skills for AZ Native American Women

"It takes only one person to believe in your business," said Cherolyn Vanwinkle, who started her own truck repair business. "That played a tremendous factor in this." (Photo courtesy of Vanwinkle)

Alex Gonzelez, Public News Service

Native American women in Arizona are getting a chance to launch their own businesses, with expert advice.

Project DreamCatcher is a unique, free initiative for Native American women entrepreneurs. In the intensive, one-week program, they’re exposed to MBA-level business classes at Arizona State University’s Thunderbird School of Global Management.

Last month, 21 women graduated from the program. The current cohort began Sunday, November 13.

Cherolyn Vanwinkle, graduate of Project DreamCatcher and co-owner of AZ Native Mobile Diesel Truck and Trailer Repair, said the program has been instrumental for her, in a predominantly male-run field. 

“I feel like this program just really helped me push my fears aside,” Vanwinkle explained. “I wasn’t fearful before, but it was just more I was sitting back and letting the world take me over. But now, I feel like I’m finally in control.”

Participants have access to graduate-level courses, coaching and advising sessions with business professionals, and networking activities designed to foster confidence in starting or growing a business. According to project leaders, the last cohort graduated 67 women, who have started 30 businesses in Arizona.  

Vanwinkle previously worked in the medical field and said she didn’t know much about what it took to run a mechanic business. But she has taken her skills and experience and used them in new ways in her new company. She acknowledged one of the most overwhelming parts of the journey was knowing where to begin, but DreamCatcher helps participants devise a plan.

“They had a professor come in and talk to us about how to understand revenues, expenses, gross profits, salary sheets, cash flow and owner’s equity,” Vanwinkle outlined. “Those are large words for some of us that didn’t go to business school.”

Vanwinkle added having a support system as a new a business is fundamental. She encouraged the next women who enroll in Project DreamCatcher to be open-minded, ask questions and use the resources available to them.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, American Indian and Alaska Native-owned businesses contributed more than $39 billion to the economy last year, but make up only 1% of all firms.

This story first appeared on Public News Service.