On October 11, 2023, Thunderbird Women in Business and Thunderpreneurs co hosted our Thunderpreneurs club and the Thunderbird women in business club of the year, featuring alumnae from Thunderbird’s very own Project Dreamcatcher. Beginning in 2015, this program supports women entrepreneurs from the Hualapai, Tohono O’odham, San Carlos Apache, White Mountain Apache, and Navajo tribes, and is partnered with the Freeport McMoran Foundation. This panel consisted of two alumnae from this program: Cherish Yazzie-Hart and Tricia Valenzuela.
Cherish is an Afro-Indigenous business owner from Chilchinbeto, a small community on the Navajo Reservation. She owns her own skincare line, Cherish Skin, LLC, whose mission is to be bold and stand out, and to create lines of skincare dedicated to creating and maintaining beautiful skin for its consumers. Beginning in the pandemic, business was challenging, but with the help of social media, especially TikTok, helped give her business more momentum. Her sister saw her pack the products and didn’t think it was her forte, but she felt compelled to help her sister. (In fact, one of Cherish’s conditions when she got accepted into Project Dreamcatcher was that her sister could come with her, a condition that was accepted.)Over time, the women have expanded and reached out more to others and traveled. Within the skincare industry, Cherish says that she does not see herself in any challenge from males, everyone can thrive within the skincare industry.
Cherish started her business by selling dollar tree boxes. She was in hospitality for 10 years at Grand Canyon through Holiday Inn, to which she used to Phoenix for Holiday Inn. Because the inn closed during the pandemic, she jump-started her business. She started with a gift based for her mother, and then transitioned to social media from making gift baskets for friends and family. Social media had a large influence on her business, and she was able to start selling sunglasses and hair products as well. Her sister Sky is also involved and is in charge of branding and marketing. Cherish says that brand and consistency are important and that you burn out quickly if you do not take breaks.
One key question that was asked Cherish was when she felt ready to go. She said you feel like a cliff and you have to make a choice to stay or jump. You either sink or swim but you won’t know until you try. She was afraid to start as she left her 10-year career. It was safe if she stayed but she wanted to be happy and do things for herself and for her people. When asked how she keeps herself going while supporting her community, Cherish said that it’s better off showing than telling. She will show a video to have a better understanding after seeing the video. Video learning inspired her to bring a voice to her people who have been invisible and not heard. She dreamed of having an
Afro-Indigenous space in a wider scale community and to help bring the products of the Navajo nation and beyond.
Tricia Valenzuela is a real estate agent born and raised in Phoenix and an enrolled member of the Gila River Indian Community. She was previously a teacher but wanted to explore home ownership as her family had not experienced it. She bought her first property as a single mom of two kids in Tempe. People started to reach out to her for advice about homes, including advice for buying, upgrading, and accessing. Through real estate, she believes that that is how her people can get her land back, especially since most of the clientele is indigenous. She continues to believe in the power of real estate and how it can make a difference in the lives of her friends, family and the community which is why she is part of the Home Meets Happiness team. Even though she was giving people advice, she didn’t think she was an entrepreneur. Through the Dreamcatcher program, however, she discovered that she was an entrepreneur, and developed her skills and saw how she can improve.
Within her field, Tricia believes that it is male-dominated. More men, especially white men, own more homes than women, and she said that it does come across men who make it feel that they are constantly mansplaining/educating her. She says that she balances it as a lesson but stands up for herself and her knowledge and authority. Others may have more experience but not for the population she serves.
She advised that, for marketing, word of mouth is the best form of marketing and reaching out to people within your circle. Social media is also very useful, especially reels and the fact that it is free.
When asked how she knew she was ready to go, she needed so many things, like a website with a fun name. It’s beautiful if you can have it in the beginning, but you have to jump in with both feet and ride it out. If you wait, you will wait forever. When asked how she keeps herself going while supporting her community, Tricia said that interactions and educating people was what kept her going. Being curious and being exceited to learn and learning to engage an audience.
Through Project Dreamcatcher, Tricia Valenzuela and Cherish Yazzie-Hart were able to expand their entrepreneurial knowledge and network with their peers who are also in various stages of their entrepreneurial journey. Thunderpreneurs and Thunderbird Women in Business were proud to host this panel for these two alumnae to return and share their advice, knowledge, and experience to our students.