Native American Youth Entrepreneurship Program Graduate Torin Jacobs II Returns as 2024 Keynote Speaker

June 4, 2024

The recent college graduate credits his experience in the program with kickstarting his journey as a small business owner.

Torin Jacobs II poses in waders with a large fish, likely a Chinook salmon, on a sunny day in Alaska.

At 22 years old, Torin Jacobs II (Yupik / Inupiaq) is still in the early stages of his entrepreneurial journey.

Having graduated this spring from Montclair State University in his home state of New Jersey with a bachelor’s degree in Exercise Science and a concentration in Health (Strength and Conditioning), Jacobs recently received his nutritionist certification and is looking to start a graduate program in the spring 2025 that would enable him to become a professional dietitian – both of which are paths that support Jacobs’ goal of building out his own personal health and wellness brand.

Jacobs came up with the foundation of his business plan while participating in the Native Nations Institute’s 2019 Native American Youth Entrepreneurship Program (NAYEP) as a senior in high school.

It was during the program that he decided to get his license to serve as a personal trainer – a business that he operates under the Yugtun name Kuicuak Personal Training, a name given to Jacobs in honor of a river in his father’s ancestral homeland of Alaska (Kuicaaq). 

Today, Jacobs has a handful of clients he trains regularly. He is also in the process of launching his own nutritional supplement company, called Little River Supplements.

Jacobs credits his participation in NAYEP with helping him to “professionalize” his efforts as an entrepreneur early on and says that learning basic business skills and concepts alongside other aspiring Indigenous entrepreneurs was a crucial time for him personally and professionally.

We recently sat down with Jacobs to discuss his professional development, his previous experience with NAYEP and why he thinks the program was so beneficial to his professional development. 

Here’s what he had to say:


How did your participation in NAYEP help you with developing your professional goals?

Jacobs wears a graduate cap and gown and holds his degree from Montclair State while standing in front of a red brick wall.

Jacobs graduated from Montclair State University in the spring of 2024 with a degree in Exercise Science.

JACOBS: When I got into the program, I had no idea that I would want to create a personal training business. I actually didn't know much about what would be happening in the program. It was a lot more detailed than I thought it was going to be. 

We did a lot of budgeting and a lot of time management work when it came to our pitches. I got my idea of developing a personal training brand on day one or day two. I did professionalize the concept throughout my time in the program. However, when I got back to New Jersey and I started my university, I didn't get to personal training right away, especially with the lockdown happening and that whole situation. It made it pretty difficult. 

But I did register online to get a license, and I figured that would be the first step. It was a little over a year ago now that I picked up my first few clients and I've just been growing the business since. 

I feel that the program definitely gave me a foundation. Even though I didn’t get into running my business right away, it was something that I could look back on and have some type of structure when creating my business a couple of years later.


Why do you think NAYEP was so impactful for you?

JACOBS:  I think that educating the youth, especially at such a pivotal moment for a lot of these kids coming in that are in high school, it's very important to let them know that it is possible to start a business and to professionalize it, as well.

I knew growing up that having a business is something that many people talked about. But, when it came to our own lives, we were busy, or we didn't have the motivation or the resources to start. So we never got our first foot forward. 

But with the program, it gave us a week to intensely focus on these goals that I feel like are in the back of the mind for a lot of people, but they don't always get the amount of time that we did during the program to really just focus on it with no other distractions. 


What are some of the things you learned at NAYEP that stuck with you?

JACOBS: I think starting a business is a very ambitious thing to do.

But there can be a lot of factors that people are not aware of when starting a business. For example, the business structure: people may not know what an LLC or a sole proprietorship are. So, having the knowledge of what those entities are and how they play into the role of your business is the first step of creating a business.

I've done multiple entrepreneurship programs... But my favorite time I ever had was when I got to spend time with my fellow Indigenous cohort. 

Then, you will also want to be able to understand the reason why you're creating this business, what it’s going to do for the community, who it’s going to serve and also how you're going to provide your product or service.

When people start businesses, I feel like a common misconception is that they're just going to become financially free. They're going to make a whole bunch of money and it's going to be relatively simple.

And, although people can achieve their goals of creating business, it is definitely very important to understand the structure, who you're marketing your services to, understanding how to budget, how to receive funding, how to differentiate your product or your service from others. 

People can create a business and they may enter a very concentrated field, so it's essential to be able to differentiate yourself and that's something people may not understand when they first get into business. 


Are there any benefits to being in this learning environment with other Indigenous students?

Torin Jacobs II smiles in a red t-shirt while learning amongst his NAYEP cohort.

Jacobs (red t-shirt) pictured with the 2019 NAYEP cohort.

JACOBS: I'm a huge, huge, huge advocate for that. I've done multiple entrepreneurship programs before – through my university, through extracurricular clubs and organizations. But my favorite time I ever had was when I got to spend time with my fellow Indigenous cohort. 

I feel like there's an identity that we share, especially being a minority on our own lands. That's definitely something that allows us to connect with one another – we can see each other and that cultural identity that we share. 

Coming from New Jersey, I didn't meet another Indigenous person until I got to college. So, I spent my entire life growing up on the East Coast without connecting to anybody in that way.

I certainly felt like an outcast. I felt like I never really fit in around the area. I was different. People didn't really understand me. But when I got together with the cohort, not only did I find unity and that we had some great chemistry together, but we also got to do professional development with each other.


Who should attend NAYEP and why?

JACOBS: I think everybody should definitely consider signing up if they get the opportunity. I still talk about it as one of the best weeks of my life. So, I am a huge advocate for anybody to take that opportunity.

Some people may have to go to a university and pay thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars to get that type of attention. But we have a resource. And, on top of that, it kind of pays homage and honors our identity and our culture as well.

When I first signed up – I'm going to be real – I wanted to make money, and I wanted to be an entrepreneur. I got my first big job that summer. I was trying to work every hour I could, and I wanted to make money and provide value. But I never actually spent the time that I needed to take it seriously. It was like a hobby rather than a focus. 

And, for this program, I feel that all these youth coming in, it's a phenomenal time to get started and to build the confidence in their ability to come up with the product or service and to pitch it and to professionalize it. 

Not many people have access to those types of opportunities. Some people may have to go to a university and pay thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars to get that type of attention. But we have a resource. And, on top of that, it kind of pays homage and honors our identity and our culture as well.

So, from many different standpoints of marketing and professionalism and entrepreneurship, there's many different aspects where the participants can grow. 

Each year is different. But they always have new speakers and you never know who is going to resonate with you. So, if someone is thinking about attending NAYEP, I'm a big advocate that they go and learn about themselves during the program. I certainly learned a lot about myself that week. 

Learn more and register for NAYEP 2024 here.

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