Leelanau News and Events

New Native American Business Incubator Is One Of Few In Country

Feb. 15, 2021

An incubator within an incubator. That’s how principals at Arrowhead Incubator describe their nonprofit, which will seek out new enterprise opportunities for Native Americans — and has its office within the Traverse City tech incubator 20Fathoms.

“What’s better than to be in an incubator (with) knowledge and resources? That’s where 20Fathoms came into play,” says Kyle Anderson.

“I looked at 20Fathoms for what it can do as a model for us as a nonprofit and an incubator,” says Thomas Wilbur.

The two founded the Arrowhead with Shiloh Slomsky, who serves as its executive director. Anderson is chair of the Arrowhead Incubator board of directors and Wilbur is vice chair.

Arrowhead Incubator – AHIN for short – is unique in the area and one of the few such nonprofits in the country.

A member of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, Anderson boasts a background in IT and technology. He served on the board of directors for Grand Traverse Economic Development while Wilbur, a member of the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin, was the chief executive officer.

“Kyle and I worked together when I was the CEO of the non-gaming side of the tribe,” says Wilbur.

They attended the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development Reservation Economic Summit 2019, where one of the seminars highlighted the need for Native American business education.

That was a light bulb moment for Anderson, who saw huge opportunity in the sector — and led to the founding of AHIN.

The founding group was completed with the addition of Slomsky. She is a former board member of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians’ non-gaming economic development corporation and its redevelopment project, Victories Square. She has nonprofit, grant writing, and economic development experience, which Wilbur said was exactly what they were looking for.

“There was a need for a day-to-day person, and I saw a need to help the startup grow,” says Slomsky.

The organization received initial grant funding of $200,000 for starting a new Native Procurement Technical Assistance Center (Native PTAC) to assist Native entities in navigating the world of federal contracting in Michigan and Wisconsin. Arrowhead Incubator is one of the few Native PTACs in the country and the only one in Michigan.

Slomsky said the organization initially focused on assisting Native American businesses and entrepreneurs in northern Michigan, from Manistee to the Upper Peninsula, but quickly expanded its reach.

“We’re willing to work with any tribal individuals in the country,” she notes.

As a nonprofit, AHIN will both seek grants and disburse funds to various Native American organizations and entities. Wilbur says one of the most exciting of the nonprofit’s efforts so far is its ability to provide services to five Native American start-ups through a Social and Economic Development Strategy-Growing Organization grant. It will also allow Arrowhead to provide and create partnerships with other organizations to expand Native American business acumen.

Read more about what Wilbur believes to be one of the most promising areas for Native American businesses and organizations to break into, plus how AHIN intends to change the status quo in Native-owned business through tailored mentorship, financial literacy and digital skills programs.

The full story is in the February issue of our sister publication, the Traverse City Business News

Pictured: Arrowhead Incubator's Kyle Anderson; Shiloh Slomsky; Tom Wilbur

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