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UM receives $850,000 grant to support Indigenous women entrepreneurs

by UM News Service
| November 9, 2021 5:55 AM

The University of Montana’s startup incubator MonTEC has received an $850,000 grant from the Google.org Impact Challenge for Women and Girls to support Indigenous women looking to start or grow a business in Montana.

MonTEC will use the funds in collaboration with Salish Kootenai College and Blackfeet Community College to develop online programming in a variety of subjects to support new and existing female-owned businesses.

“Women of color, in particular, are incredibly underrepresented in business and leadership roles,” said Morgan Slemberger, director of Women’s Entrepreneurship & Leadership at UM. “We will use this generous grant from Google to support and supplement the existing strength of indigenous women by providing them with culturally empowering online courses.”

UM was one of 34 organizations and one of only six in the U.S. to receive the Google.org Impact Challenge for Women and Girls. In March, the $25 million philanthropy program invited the global nonprofit community to submit its boldest and most innovative ideas to create a more equitable economic reality for women and girls. Google.org then partnered with a women-led panel of experts, as well as gender equity-focused organizations Vital Voices and Project Everyone, to evaluate proposals based on four key criteria: innovation, impact, feasibility and scalability.

Marlene Doney, chair of the Business Division at Blackfeet Community College, said the entrepreneurial spirit is strong in her community, and funding from the Google.org program will help women navigate important basic skills like writing up a business plan to apply for loans.

“We previously offered a SMART Money program to teach financial literacy, and we set record enrollment in that class,” Doney said. “The desire to learn more about finances and other areas of business is something we can grow from.”

Rachel Andrews-Gould, dean of the SKC Business Division, said the team will spend the next year developing classes that include a gamut of subjects, including personal finances, taxes, marketing, business and self-care. MonTEC will build upon the existing platform the WELL Women’s Business Center is using to disseminate the classes to women enrolled in the programs and create Indigenous, virtual spaces.

The impact, Andrews-Gould said, will extend far beyond the businesses themselves.

“Every woman we help touches multiple generations and family members,” she said. “Their children, their husbands, their aunties. It will make generational differences.”

“Collaborations like these not only help deliver on UM’s promise to advance inclusive prosperity for all Montana citizens but also enact a critical part of UM’s mission,” UM President Seth Bodnar said.

“This program perfectly aligns with one of our strategic priorities: Partner with Place. It reflects our commitment to recognize and support the talent of the people of Montana, including those living in rural areas and Indigenous communities, to promote the prosperity of our state and region.”

In addition to funding, UM, MonTEC and its partners will participate in a four-month accelerator program led by Google’s Accelerator and Women Techmakers communities and Impact Challenge partner Vital Voices to move projects forward. “Globally, women have been nearly twice as likely to lose their jobs during COVID-19 as men,” said Jacquelline Fuller, president of Google.org. “It’s vital that we elevate and support work that empowers women and girls to reach their full economic potential, especially in marginalized communities. The pandemic recovery must be an inclusive one, and we know that when we invest in women and girls, we all benefit.”