Change Labs’ entrepreneurship hub opening its doors in Tuba City soon
Change Labs’ entrepreneurship hub opening its doors

The 1,400-square-foot work and event space, meeting area and community center is the first building of its kind for business owners, creatives and the entrepreneurial-curious on the Navajo Nation. (Photo/Change Labs)

The 1,400-square-foot work and event space, meeting area and community center is the first building of its kind for business owners, creatives and the entrepreneurial-curious on the Navajo Nation. (Photo/Change Labs)

Tuba City, Ariz. — Change Labs, the nonprofit entrepreneurship incubator for Native businesses, will soon be cutting the ribbon on its 1,400-square-foot entrepreneurship hub and coworking space in Tuba City in June. The hub is the first of its kind to support business owners, creatives and self-employed individuals on the Navajo Nation.

The entrepreneurship hub will provide a permanent home for Change Labs’ business workshops, coaching sessions and incubation services. It also hosts a drop-in office for existing and aspiring entrepreneurs to ask questions and seek help in setting up and running a business on the reservation. The hub facilities include free work desks, internet, a copy and scan center, an event space, and a meeting room that users can book for team, client and vendor meetings.

The hub is open to the public. Anyone living on, running a business, or interested in starting a business on the reservation will have access to the hub’s facilities and services, as well as Change Labs’ trainings and workshops.

“The opening of our first entrepreneurship hub has been a long time in the making and fills a deep and urgent need on the reservation. Finally entrepreneurs, creatives, and makers have a space to gather, work, learn, meet their peers and find support in making their ideas and visions a reality,” said Change Labs co-founder and executive director, Heather Fleming.

“The hub is a symbol of our intended permanency in the community. By cutting the ribbon on this space, Change Labs is saying that we are here as a Native resource led by Native people for Native people,” said Change Labs co-founder, Jessica Stago.

The new entrepreneurship hub was made possible by the generous support of the Flora Family Foundation, the Kauffman Foundation, Common Future, the Reis Foundation and Grand Canyon Trust.

Meeting a community need

Change Labs identified the need for a shared resource center based on common and recurring business challenges raised by the entrepreneurs attending its entrepreneurial workshops and events, which Change Labs has been hosting on the Navajo Nation since 2014.

“The most common question we heard was about how to navigate the business set up and regulatory process. The second most common question was about where business owners could find a desk to work, or access a printer, or pick up a form they needed,” Fleming said. “It was clear that what was needed to address most of these issues was a one-stop shop where people could work and ask for advice.”

The hub took five years to come to fruition. The journey to reaching opening day reflects the myriad of the challenges that many Indigenous entrepreneurs face in launching and running their businesses, particularly with land permitting and leasing.

“The issue of land and space is one of the most persistent obstacles for our communities’ prosperity. For those who want to establish and run a business or organization on the reservation, it’s often difficult and time-consuming to find physical space, then figure out what’s required and navigate bureaucracy,” Stago said.

“We have such admiration for those who try much less succeed. It’s a testament to the incredible will, determination and fortitude of the entrepreneurs in our community,” Fleming added.

By anchoring resources locally, Change Labs’ vision for the hub is to create a space that nurtures a sense of possibility and opportunity of becoming an entrepreneur on the reservation. The organization hopes community members will feel empowered to design businesses and organizations that embody Indigenous values and promote economic resilience and growth by serving the Hopi and Navajo communities.

“Entrepreneurship is new to a lot of people on the Navajo Nation,” says Navajo artist Crystal Dugi, founder of Crystal L Dághaa’ii. “When I started, I had no idea I was even running a business. But it grew and then I joined the [Change Labs] incubator. That provided me with my entrepreneur superhero cape. The new building is a place for all of us superheroes to come together to make change on the reservation.”

“I am super excited to see the new Change Labs headquarters in Tuba City being built because it will be creating a space for entrepreneurs, a place to gather, network and to see that we are not alone,” says Kelsey Lee, founder of Happy Accidents! Media Production in Cameron, Arizona.

“There are times we need physical spaces for production meetings and art shows and we end up going to Flagstaff, the closest border town, because there are no community spaces. Having access to the Change Labs’ facilities, we can host those meetings and art shows in our own communities.”

“We’ve seen estimates that peg unemployment on the reservation at around 50%. We think a big portion of that number may be sole-proprietors — food vendors, artisans and jewelers who don’t think of themselves as entrepreneurs,” Fleming said. “These are model Native entrepreneurs, because they do it for the love of the craft or to feed their families, not because they’re looking for an exit strategy or to amass a fortune.”

“We know that entrepreneurship is built into the resiliency of our community,” Stago added.

“We also know that given the right resources, Indigenous entrepreneurs will lead us into a more positive future. In that way, the new hub represents our past, our present, and our future.”

The grand opening of the Change Labs entrepreneurship hub in Tuba City, Arizona, is set for 10 a.m. MDT Friday, June 16, 2023.

Information provided by Change Labs.

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