With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. Small Business Administration has expanded its reach to Indian Country entrepreneurs in a big way. 

This year marks the first in which the SBA partnered with Sister Sky Inc., a professional services provider and subsidiary of the nationally recognized health and wellness brand to host the workshops. The Empowerment Workshops are offered free of charge and seek to provide entrepreneurs and aspiring businesspeople inside Indian Country with the foundational skills and necessary support to create thriving businesses.

This year also saw the traditionally in-person Empowerment Workshops transition to a virtual environment for the first time. While necessary during the global pandemic, executives from Sister Sky and SBA administrators hope the virtual format will continue to allow more entrepreneurs from Indian Country to access the service in the years to come. 

The virtual Empowerment Workshops include eight modules covering foundational topics in business, ranging from marketing processes and financial management, to financing and cashflow. Since transitioning to a virtual format, Sister Sky offers both live, interactive webinars and archived copies of the material for participants to view at their convenience. The workshops also cover various financial programs and other developmental services provided by the SBA.  

“We’ve been where some of the people who participate are,” said Marina TurningRobe, co-founder of Sister Sky. “That experience has allowed us to bring on board some incredible people in Indian Country who are like minded and have a passion for providing business knowledge to Indian Country.”

Sister Sky’s passion for the Empowerment Workshops stems from the company’s own business journey. Sister Sky was founded in 1999 by sisters TurningRobe and Monica Simeon who saw the need for a health and wellness products company inspired by their heritage. As the company grew, the sisters often received requests for other tribes to speak about their business journey. 

 “We did a couple of times but always walked away feeling flat,” TurningRobe said. “Honestly, it just felt like we were talking about ourselves and then walking away.” 

Driven by the inspiration to give back, TurningRobe and Simeon formed Sister Sky Inc., a professional services subsidiary of Sister Sky, with the mission of providing meaningful business training to entrepreneurs in Indian Country. As the company grew, Sister Sky won the contract to provide the Empowerment Workshop Training with the SBA. 

“I think the stars aligned really well,” said Shawn Pensoneau, Assistant Administrator with the SBA Office of Native American Affairs. “I came into this job a couple years ago and really looked under the hood and decided that I wanted to expand our footprint with additional resources. Things came together and we’ve been very proud of the products we’ve been able to offer through Sister Sky as our training partner.”

In addition to providing the training, Sister Sky also serves as an advocate for entrepreneurs, assisting them in securing necessary technical resources needed for their business. The organization connects its participants with SBA specialists or other experts, who can assist with technical questions specific to each participant’s business. For example, if an entrepreneur is interested in federal contracting, Sister Sky will leverage its network to connect the participant with SBA resources to help walk them through the process. 

“I think the Empowerment Workshops are a model for our tribal communities,” TurningRobe said. “It nurtures our tribal communities because they see that we’ve done it and they think they can too. That’s what we need to establish in Indian Country. We need to encourage each other and build bridges.”

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