Venture Acceleration Fund Fosters Creative Jobs in Native American Communities
Etkie On Track to Double Employee Rolls Annually
Every year, people flock to New Mexico to experience the culture and history, and most take a bit of it home with them in the form of jewelry or art. However, a majority of artisans, despite their talent, are excluded from being able to earn a living through their traditional and cultural expertise. Sydney Alfonso, CEO of the jewelry brand Etkie, is taking their talent to the world and creating long-term sustainable opportunities for New Mexico artisans in the process.
Etkie, founded in 2014, is a luxury jewelry brand with a twist. Alfonso has a sharp eye for design, and a commitment to sourcing her talent from underemployed communities in New Mexico. Previously, she worked with women’s co-ops in Turkey and Mongolia, helping them modernize products for a western market. Now she provides Native American beadworkers a platform to create contemporary designs using the artistic traditions passed down from generations. The artists live on the Navajo Nation where the roads to work are long and the jobs are nonexistent. Many of them elect to work from home on the land and in the community where their roots are deeply planted.
Alfonso’s business philosophy has deep roots in social responsibility, and she views Etkie as a vehicle to preserve cultural traditions that are at risk of disappearing. A New Mexico native, she wanted to start a business in her home state, utilizing the talents that are already here and creating a way for Native American artisans to support themselves.
It was the combination of a smart business plan geared for growth and commitment to cultural preservation that led to recognition by the Regional Development Corporation (RDC) in 2015. After applying for the Venture Acceleration Fund (VAF), a program administered by the RDC, Etkie was named a recipient of funds to help build the infrastructure of the young company.
The VAF is the only program that provides seed money for early-stage startups and growth-oriented companies that often lack the collateral for debt financing. Alfonso knew of the VAF as a fund with primary investments in technology and manufacturing startups but, as she made her way through the application process, was impressed to learn of the importance the VAF also places on community building.