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Indigenous people are building businesses in record numbers; however, myriad barriers still stand in their way. Here are several resources that lend support to Native American entrepreneurs specifically, from networking groups to grant opportunities.
March 30, 2021
According to the latest data from the U.S. Small Business Administration, the number of businesses owned by Native Americans grew 15% between 2007 and 2012, representing 272,000 firms and $39 billion in annual receipts. At the same time, Native Americans are still one of the most economically disadvantaged populations in the US.
The Economic Policy Institute reports that roughtly one in four Native Americans lives in poverty, compared to about one in 10 of whites who does. As a result, the Native American population’s median wealth is equal to just 8.7% of that of all Americans. They face academic, geographical, infrastructural and other barriers that can leave them disadvantaged and often without work, home ownership or buildable wealth.
Because of these unique hurdles, it can be difficult for Indigenous people to find business resources, from mentors to financing. The following groups are stepping up to fill the void.
Change Labs is a Native-led and Native-controlled 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization based in the Navajo and Hopi nations. In addition to lending, coworking, networking and mentorship opportunities, 20 high-potential Native entrepreneurs are chosen each year for the Change Labs business incubator. Participants receive mentorship, community, hands-on training, branding support, coworking resources and up to $10,000 in seed money to launch their business.
Hello Alice matches underserved small business owners with resources that can help them. In addition to in-person workshops and accelerators across the U.S., Hello Alice also matches business owners with online opportunities and resources, customized to each person’s unique need.
NAFSA Food and Culinary Mentorship
NAFSA’s (Native American Food Sovereignty Alliance) Native Food and Culinary Mentorship delivers hand-on action and education. It works with Indigenous people, nations, tribes and communities to offer traditional food systems-based social and entrepreneurship learning opportunities, mentorship and development support.
The U.S. Department of Commerce’s Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) is the only federal agency solely dedicated to the growth and global competitiveness of minority business enterprises. It invests in a national network of Business Centers (staffed with business experts to help companies secure capital, compete for contracts, identify partners and more), Specialty Centers (export, manufacturing and federal procurement centers) and grants for women of color, former incarcerated persons, American Indian Alaska Native/Native Hawaiian people and other members of the BIPOC community.
National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development (NCAIED)
NCAIED has over 40 years of experience helping Native tribes and tribal people realize their business goals. It helps businesses with procurement, supply management, technical assistance, training and advocacy as well as hosts conferences, trade fairs and fundraising events that advance development across the country.
North American Traditional Indigenous Food Systems (NATIFS)
NATIFS is a nonprofit group formed to address the economic and health crises affecting Native communities by re-establishing Native foodways. It recently launched the Indigenous Food Lab to help entrepreneurs start and run a successful culinary businesses based grounded in Native traditions and Indigenous foods.
Some of ONABEN’s signature programs were created for Native veterans, artists and women looking to start their entrepreneurial endeavors.
Tribal Link Foundation
Tribal Link connects Indigenous people to information, resources and relevant networks. Its Indigenous Entrepreneurship Program helps Indigenous people bring their products to market, and all members of any of Tribal Link’s programs become part of the community and are afforded individualized counsel and support. This includes but is not limited to scholarships, fellowships, funding, communications training, legal advisory services and networking.
U.S. Small Business Administration’s Office of Native American Affairs (ONAA)
ONAA provides access to business growth and expansion tools, from training and technical assistance to website design and marketing opportunities. It also hosts entrepreneurial workshops and empowerment workshops to help entrepreneurs take their idea from concept to completion.
Accion’s team of lending officers specializes in loans for BIPOC-owned businesses and is trained to help entrepreneurs clear some of the unique and inherent hurdles they face.
Indian Loan Guarantee and Insurance Program (ILGP)
To qualify for a loan through ILGP, you must be: an individual who is an enrolled member of a federally recognized American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) tribe or group; a federally recognized AI/AN group; or a corporation, limited liability company or other business entity with no less than 51% ownership by federally recognized AI/AN individuals.
This Oakland-based fund is committed to funding underrepresented businesses, including BIPOC-owned businesses. In fact, 59% of the current investments at Kapor Capital have a founder identifying as a woman and/or an underrepresented person of color.
Oweesta Corporation directly provides Native American communities the tools and capital support required for real and sustainable job creation and small business development. Borrowers must be Native-controlled and have a primary mission of serving Native communities.
Comcast RISE Investment Fund
Eligible BIPOC-owned businesses in the Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, Houston and Philadelphia areas can apply for $10,000 grants through the Comcast RISE Investment Fund, which focuses on small businesses that have been operating for three or more years with one to 25 employees.
Food and Beverage Investment Fund
The James Beard Foundation recently launched the Food and Beverage Investment Fund for Black and Indigenous Americans, which offers $15,000 to small Black- and Indigenous-owned food and beverage businesses.
Indian Equity Fund (Montana)
The Montana Office of Tourism and Business Development gives grants to new or expanding Native American businesses in Montana through its Indian Equity Fund, with awards reaching upt to $14,000.
Tribal Economic Diversity Fund (New Mexico)
This fund from the Regional Development Corporation provides grants to businesses with at least 51% ownership by a member or corporation of the Pueblos of Nambe, Ohkay, Picuris, Santa Clara, Pojoaque, Taos, San Ildefonso, Tesuque, Cochiti or Jemez, with a company headquartered in Northern New Mexico.
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