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We develop a new, group-theoretic approach to bounding the exponent of matrix multiplication. There are two components to this approach: (1) identifying groups G that admit a certain type of embedding of matrix multiplication into the group algebra C[G], and (2) controlling the dimensions of the irreducible representations of such groups. We present machinery and examples to support (1), including a proof that certain families of groups of order n2+o(1) support n × n matrix multiplication, a necessary condition for the approach to yield exponent 2. Although we cannot yet completely achieve both (1) and (2), we hope that it may be possible, and we suggest potential routes to that result using the constructions in this paper.