Strategies for Starting Your First Native-Owned Business by Kylee Carter

Over 272,000 businesses in the United States are owned by American Indians and Alaska Natives, and that number continues to rise with the help of new programs to support small businesses within the Native community. Business leaders within the American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian communities are taking steps to empower young entrepreneurs and building networks of mutual support through summits and social media. Grants and small business loans are also available through not-for-profits, NGOs and government organizations. If you’re thinking about starting a business, take time to learn more about the resources available to finance and develop your startup.

Training Programs for American Indian Entrepreneurs

The guidance and training of experienced mentors can help grow the seeds of your business plan. Having an idea is an important first step, but cultivating the skills to implement that idea takes hard work. Look to other successful business models for guidance, and find local or online courses that will help you strategize and put your plan into action.  There are a number of programs designed to help aspiring business owners in the Native community navigate the unique challenges of negotiating with tribal governments, applying for federal grants and overcoming systemic discrimination.  If you’re planning to enroll in a business program at an accredited university or college, you may be eligible for scholarship programs to reduce the cost of your education. 

Improving Personal Finances Before Starting a Business

Before you can invest the time and money needed to start a business, you’ll need to stabilize your personal finances. Improving your credit score, minimizing expenses and building your savings improves your likelihood of being approved for a loan and will minimize stress as you embark on building your business. Focus on repairing and minimizing any credit card debt before allocating funds for your business. Work with a financial advisor who understands the implications that personal investments and business decisions can have on the goals and needs of the Tribe as a whole, and can help steer you in a direction that ensures optimal profits for both you and your tribe rather than institutions that seek to secure their own share of your earnings. 

Securing Capital to Start Your Business

The Office of Native American Affairs, a division of the US government’s Small Business Administration offers federal assistance to help American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian owned businesses get off the ground. In addition to helping Native-owned businesses secure funding through grants and loans, they also offer workshops and consultations to educate and empower aspiring entrepreneurs. You can also work with a not-for-profit lender that specializes in helping minority-owned businesses get started and thrive. 

American Indian culture has a rich history of entrepreneurship, and there are a number of resources available to help you carry on that tradition. Cultivate the skills and knowledge needed to grow your business, and seek creative solutions to overcome obstacles that may stand in your way. Look for support within your tribe, local community and business networks across the country.