The Best Resources for Indigenous American Entrepreneurs
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Entrepreneurs create new business opportunities for themselves and their communities. According to the most recent census, Indigenous Americans comprise 2.09% of the United States population. Comparatively, Indigenous Americans own and operate nearly 6% of all U.S. businesses, approximately 24,430 across the country.
Some unique difficulties may hinder Indigenous American entrepreneurs from opening small businesses. Indigenous entrepreneurs receive fewer opportunities to access funding, land, and business mentorship support from national and local institutions. Many organizations – nonprofit, Native-led, and federal – work to advance Indigenous entrepreneurs through financial, educational, and networking opportunities.
Indigenous-led and centered organizations provide additional funding opportunities specifically for Indigenous entrepreneurs.
While Indigenous entrepreneurs can purchase or lease land for business development across the United States, the low rates of such access highlights the underrepresentation of Indigenous entrepreneurs obtaining this land. Additionally, limited property rights for tribal lands restrict access to Indigenous land for new business ventures within the cultural community.
Aside from general entrepreneurial funding support, Indigenous-led and centered organizations provide additional funding opportunities specifically for Indigenous entrepreneurs. These opportunities support the growth of Indigenous businesses and the financial needs of Indigenous entrepreneurs.
These organizations provide valuable support for a plethora of Indigenous entrepreneurs. Networking, financing options, and business skill development opportunities expand Indigenous small business platforms. Financial aid and scholarships can also offer support for Indigenous entrepreneurs seeking business degrees and ongoing education.
The following sections use each organization’s preferred language for describing origin, tribal affiliation, and location.
Change Labs, a Native-led nonprofit organization, centers its work on advancing Indigenous American entrepreneurs. Located on the Navajo and Hopi Nations, Change Labs supports Native American entrepreneurs in developing small businesses that uplift tribal communities.
Change Labs helps small businesses build infrastructure and economic sustainability and self-reliance. The organization invests in data analysis to fully understand and improve their programmatic supports. Each Change Labs program expands the social, human, and financial capital of Native entrepreneurs. The organization operates four distinct programs alongside ongoing opportunities for entrepreneurial support:
- Rez Rising: Connecting Native entrepreneurs with new customers, Rez Rising amplifies visibility and economic opportunity for over 600 small businesses through an online network.
- Incubator: Change Labs invites 20 entrepreneurs per year to build their business through the Incubator program. Native entrepreneurs access business training, marketing plans, workspaces, mentorship offerings, and up to $10,000 in seed money to launch their business.
- Kinship Lending: Native entrepreneurs can apply to receive low-interest loans up to $5,000. Kinship lending supports indigenous business owners, vendors, artisans, and nonprofit leaders.
- Coworking: This creative workspace offers Native entrepreneurs a physical environment to build their business. Participants receive marketing tools, business coaching, and access to networking events.
NDN Collective builds sustainable infrastructures for Indigenous people through activism, organizing, and philanthropy. The Indigenous-led organization focuses on generating equity and uplifting Indigenous narratives. By supporting the development of sustainable Indigenous communities, NDN empowers an ongoing connection to culture, land, and identity.
NDN strongly defends climate justice, racial equity, education equity, and the landback movement. Their campaign efforts highlight the interconnectedness of land and humanity. Through protests, education, and valuable resources, NDN presents a platform for Indigenous wellbeing. NDN grants four major financial offerings within the Indigenous community:
- NDN Radical Imagination Grant: Indigenous artists can receive $50,000 grants to amplify equitable policies and practices through artistic expression.
- NDN Changemaker Fellowship: Investing in Indigenous leadership, this year-long fellowship supports the creation of visionary projects that create change.
- NDN Collective COVID-19 Response Project: This multi-year project offers support to organizations that build systemic change in and around their communities, regenerating a healthy economy surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.
- NDN Fund: NDN Collective’s nonprofit arm provides $100 million to Indigenous organizations operating on large scale projects.
National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development
The National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development (NCAIED) provides American Indian tribes and businesses with economic development opportunities. Led by the motto “We Mean Business,” NCAIED, a nonprofit, helps American Indian entrepreneurs reach their business goals and build generational wealth.
NCAIED supports American Indian community expansion through myriad business efforts. The nonprofit provides business development training, federal program advocacy, and financial assistance resources, including:
- Reservation Economic Summit: RES connects American Indian business leaders with government officials and corporate representatives. The conference focuses on various aspects of business development, including agricultural resiliency and financial stability.
- Native Edge Institutes: NEI events provide business training sessions to entrepreneurs of all levels. Business owners receive personalized coaching along with regional networking opportunities.
- Procurement Technical Assistance Center: PTAC guides American Indian entrepreneurs in marketing and selling to government agencies. The center offers networking events, procurement support, and certification pathways that increase the connection between American Indian businesses and contractors.
NCAIED also awards leading American Indian entrepreneurs for their contributions to business and community with the 40 Under 40 award program. The award recognizes outstanding individuals and celebrates their accomplishments on a national stage.
National Congress of American Indians
The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) comprises and represents American Indian and Alaska Native entrepreneurs, tribal citizens and governments, and Native organizations. NCAI members vote on all policies and leadership roles, creating a nonprofit of collective development.
NCAI advocates strongly for economic, environmental, and cultural needs in the Native community. It operates many programs in partnership with other organizations to support economic development and public access to educational resources. Additionally, NCAI founded the Policy Research Center which focuses on research and data collection to inform public policy. Three programs offered by the NCAI include:
- Native Small Business Grant: The ongoing fund offers grants to small businesses impacted by COVID-19. Applicants receive $5,000 to address their most urgent financial needs.
- Native Financial Education Coalition: This program offers financial education and guidance for tribal citizens. The Native Financial Education Coalition partners with NCAI to support the expansion of individual and community wealth.
- Fiduciary Investment Training Program: Entrepreneurs from tribal nations can take part in this program to learn from investment experts on building sustainable tribal economies.
IDRS Acorn Project
The Indian Dispute Resolution Services (IDRS) Acorn Project supports Native American entrepreneurs through customized programs focused on developing small businesses. The Acorn Project hosts training sessions for all aspects of business ownership in order to meet entrepreneurs’ varying needs. The Native-led nonprofit project supports over 25 tribes and Native nonprofits.
The IDRS Acorn Project focuses on business training for Native American youth, providing skills to support entrepreneurship, leadership development, and financial literacy. Examples include:
- Side Hustle Entrepreneurship Academy: Youth create part-time businesses based on their own creative ideas. The academy curriculum includes resources to assist ongoing business development and technical assistance.
- Building Native Communities Financial Literacy: This experiential learning program provides youth with monetary life skills training. The curriculum includes money management, budgeting, and fundamental credit skills.
Additionally, the Acorn Project’s Entrepreneurial Assistance Program supports Native American business owners and those aspiring towards entrepreneurship through business development. The program provides technical training and individualized counseling during the entrepreneurial process.
The National Minority Supplier Development Council
The National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC), a corporate for-profit organization, connects minority entrepreneurs with corporations to facilitate supply chain distribution. NMSDC connects minority-owned businesses of all sizes to a network comprising over 1,450 corporate members.
Business membership in NMSDC requires certification as a Minority Business Enterprise (MBE). Once certified as an MBE, entrepreneurs gain access to NMSDC’s corporate network and membership seminars, trainings, and events. MBE certification comes with access to capital investing opportunities and other funding sources.
The annual NMSDC conference offers entrepreneurs networking opportunities with other MBE members and corporate representatives. The event hosts a variety of workshops and exhibitor booths to facilitate education and connection.
Available NMSDC programs for members include Emerging Young Entrepreneurs, Growth Initiative, and Corporate Plus®:
- Emerging Young Entrepreneurs: The EYE program offers young minority entrepreneurs an opportunity to grow their businesses with assistance from the NMSDC corporate network.
- Growth Initiative: Certified MBE members apply for the Growth Initiative program in order to access equity capital for their business needs. The program is specially designed for entrepreneurs with high growth potential.
- Corporate Plus®: For MBE members with demonstrated ability for national distribution, Corporate Plus® offers high profile corporate connections. Members can expand their business platforms with corporate contracts across the nation.
Laila Abdalla, Ph.D.
Laila Abdalla obtained her Ph.D. in English from McGill University in Montreal, Canada. For over 21 years at Central Washington University, she taught undergraduate and graduate courses in her subjects, along with classes on successful writing. Laila has devoted her teaching and leadership to matters of equity, diversity, and inclusion. She is committed to her students’ complete experience above all, raising awareness of BIPoC issues in language, community, and culture. She leads with equity in management and non profit volunteering, and continues to develop her own understandings of these complex issues in her lived experiences and professionally.
Feature Image: Marc Romanelli / Getty Images
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