It’s an exciting time to be a Native American business owner. In 2012, the Census Bureau found that there were almost 300,000 Native-American-owned businesses. The same report found that there was a 15% growth in the number of Native American-owned businesses between 2007 and 2012.
More businesses means more jobs, healthier communities, and a lower poverty rate.
Unfortunately, there are still challenges for Native American entrepreneurs to overcome. Many of these obstacles are unique to Native American groups. The good news is that there are many resources for Native Americans who want to start a business or improve their existing business. There are also special opportunities to secure business loans, grants, training, and even government contracts.
To learn more about the opportunities available to you and how we at ZenBusiness can help, jump into the article below.
Giving Native American entrepreneurs the right financial resources makes all the difference in helping Native American-owned businesses thrive in today’s competitive economic climate. The federal government and many other groups realize how critical it is to support and encourage Native American businesses.
That’s why they’ve offered plenty of resources for businesses as well as grants and loan programs. Native American-owned businesses can get access to many of these special opportunities just by getting certified as a minority-owned business.
Like any other business, Native American-owned businesses rely on periodic funding sources to weather unplanned costs, expand their operations, and remain competitive. Grants provide one way for various entities to provide a helping hand to Native American businesses.
However, it’s important to keep in mind that you can’t always use grants to start a business. You have to look at the unique purpose of each grant program. Because of that, make sure that you can use the funds to pursue your unique goals when you’re reviewing these grant programs,
The federal government offers many of the most well-known grant programs. One example is the Native American Business Development Institute (NABDI) grant, which funds feasibility studies on Native American-owned businesses to empower tribes to make informed economic decisions.
The Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Native Americans (ANA) operates another notable grant program. The ANA program offers grants and other forms of funding which can span across a period of 12, 24, or 36 months.
However, those two grant programs are far from the only ones that the federal government offers. There are many more to consider, including:
- National Tribal Broadband Grant (NTBG),
- Living Languages Grant Program (LLGP),
- Energy and Mineral Development (EMDP) grants, and
- Tribal Energy Development Capacity (TEDC) grants.
To learn more about these programs, check out the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs website. Finally, you can search through a full list of federal funding opportunities at Grants.gov and filter your results by grants offered for Native American-owned or minority-owned businesses.
State and Local Grants
Various states and cities offer additional grant programs for Native American-owned businesses. For instance, the Montana Office of Tourism and Business Development operates the Indian Equity Fund (IEF) Small Business Grant.
There’s also New Mexico’s Native American Venture Acceleration Fund (NAVAF) and Maryland’s various financial incentives for minority businesses.
Using sites like GrantWatch, you can search for state-specific grants for small businesses, including those owned by Native Americans.
Tribal Grants and Other Grants
Tribal grants offer another path for obtaining grant funding. One example of a Tribal grant comes from the Spirit Mountain Community Fund (SMCF) in Oregon. The SMCF offers grants to Oregon’s nine federally recognized tribes.
Private foundations and corporations offer grants for Native American-owned businesses as well. Take Google, for example. Last year, the company partnered with the National Congress of American Indians to provide grants to 170 Native American-owned small businesses. Amazon, FedEx, EnrichHER, and the Northwest Area Foundation provide similar small business grant programs. Even professional sports teams offer grant programs. For instance, the Chicago Blackhawks offer microgrants to minority-owned businesses in West Side Chicago.
Finally, the First Nations Development Institute often offers grants to Native American-owned businesses. Although there may not be grants right now, new opportunities are popping up all the time.
Maybe you’re not ready to apply for these specific grant programs. Maybe you’re not even sure how to apply for grant programs.
Don’t sweat it too much. We’ve got your back — just check out our article on the how-tos of small business grants.
Grants aren’t the only option out there for funding a Native American-owned business. Loans are another essential tool in your financial toolbox. And even though you’ll have to pay back loans (unlike grants), you won’t have to worry about the conditions or “strings” that come with grants.
At any rate, there are many loan opportunities for Native American entrepreneurs.
Federal Loan Programs
The federal government offers an impressive selection of loan programs. First, there’s the Indian Loan Guarantee and Insurance Program (ILGP). This program offers business loans to Native American entrepreneurs. To qualify for an ILGP loan, you only need show that you are:
- An enrolled member of a federally recognized Native American tribe or group; or
- A corporation, limited liability company, or other business entity with no less than 51% ownership by individuals belonging to a federally recognized Native American tribe or group.
Certain types of businesses don’t qualify for ILGP loans, like casinos, smoke shops, breweries, and businesses involving prostitution. Also, the maximum amount for ILGP loan amounts is $500,000 for individuals, so they aren’t the best choice for larger projects. That said, Native American-owned businesses can qualify for higher amounts.
If the ILGP isn’t your cup of tea, there are more options. The Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI) Fund — operated by the Treasury Department — offers loans to Native American businesses through its Native Initiatives program. To date, it has awarded more than $120 million in loans to CDFIs.
There’s also the Energy Department’s Tribal Energy Loan Guarantee Program (TELGP). The TELGP can guarantee up to $2 billion in loans to Native American tribes and business groups in connection with a wide range of energy development projects.
Finally, the Department of Agriculture’s Business & Industry Loan Guarantee Program (BILGP) provides guarantees on loans of up to $25 million over a term of up to 30 years. To qualify for a USDA loan under BILGP, however, your business needs to be in a rural area — meaning an area with fewer than 50,000 people.
Also, you need to be able to provide collateral that is worth at least as much as the loan amount. The collateral can be your personal assets or business assets.
That said, getting a loan through BILGP may not be the best choice for brand new Native American businesses.
Other Loan Programs
As is the case with grants, Native American entrepreneurs can find plenty of loans from state, local, and private sources. Here’s a list of some noteworthy loan programs for Native American-owned or minority-owned businesses:
- Accion Opportunity Fund
- HELM Accelerate
- UP Community Fund
- Minnesota’s Indian Business Loan Program
- Mvskoke Loan Fund
Each of these programs has various requirements. Make sure that you carefully review the requirements for each loan program to see if it is the right choice for your situation.
Access to Government Contracts
Government contracts are yet another lucrative means by which Native American-owned businesses can grow and thrive. In 2019 alone, the United States government purchased almost $600 billion in goods and services.
Because of the unique (and often troubled) relationship with the Native American tribes, the federal government operates several programs to help federally recognized tribes obtain government contracts.
Native American Procurement Assistance Centers
Due to the unusual legal and political relationship between the United States and the various federal tribes, the government operates six Native American Procurement Technical Assistance Centers (PTACs). These PTACs provide guidance and technical assistance to tribal businesses to help them compete in the government marketplace.
Department of Defense Contracts for Native American Businesses
The Department of Defense’s Indian Incentive Program (IIP) provides any prime contractor with a 5% rebate for any amount that it subcontracts to a Native American-owned business entity or organization. For a contractor to qualify for the IIP, the subcontractor needs to be a member of a federally recognized Native American tribe.
Additional Resources for Helping Native American Businesses
The federal government’s 8(a) Business Development program provides small businesses owned by socially and economically disadvantaged groups — including Native Americans — with competition assistance so that they have a chance to land fruitful government contracts.
To qualify for the 8(a), you need to be a small business that is owned and controlled primarily by a socially and economically disadvantaged group. You also must have a net worth of under $750,000, a gross income of under $350,000, and under $6 million in assets.
The Small Business Administration (SBA) offers an eligibility checklist to help you decide if the 8(a) program is right for your business.
In addition to these resources, there are programs specifically designed to train and give technical assistance to Native Americans who want to start their own businesses.
Chief among these programs is the IDRS Acorn Project, which serves more than 25 tribes and Native nonprofit organizations throughout the country. This program offers personal support to help Native American entrepreneurs craft their own business plan. The IDRS Acorn project also provides business development counseling and educational workshops.
The SBA offers a wide range of training resources for Native Americans. For one, the SBA offers an extensive listing of training and technical assistance programs specifically aimed toward Native Americans. The listed programs range from local, city-specific initiatives to federally provided resources.
Moreover, the SBA offers an online course for novice Native American business owners. The information covered by the course includes business planning and market research techniques, as well as advice on how to handle the legal side of business operations. Finally, it includes ample information on gauging business costs.
Other Resources for Native American Business Owners
To top off our catalog of business resources, here’s an inventory of other helpful programs for Native American-owned businesses:
- American Indian Business Leaders (AIBL)
- The National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development (NCAIED)
- Oweesta Corporation
- Washington State’s Native Business Center
- The University of New Mexico’s American Indian Business directory
- The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI)
- The Native American Contractors Association (NACA)
- The SBA’s Guidance on Alaska Native Corporations
- The Native American Financial Official Association (NAFOA)
With these exciting resources in hand, the possibilities are countless for your business.
ZenBusiness Is Here for You
Finding the right resources for your Native American-owned business can broaden your business horizons and unveil a whole new world of possibilities.
Here at ZenBusiness, we believe that minority-owned businesses matter. We want to help connect you with the many opportunities available to you.
But there’s so much more we can do.
Whether you want to start a business, improve your business, or fund new business opportunities, we’re standing by to connect you with the resources you need to achieve your goals.
Feel free to learn about other benefits available to minority-owned businesses, and peruse one of our state-specific guides (like Alaska) on how to start a business. If you’re ready to launch your own limited liability company (LLC) or corporation, we can help you with our business formation plans. We are here for you every step of the way.
Native-American-Owned Business FAQs
- What qualifies as a Native American-owned business?
For a business to be considered Native American-owned, Native Americans must own the majority of the business’s stock or assets. In addition, Native Americans must control the daily operations of the business.
A Native American is generally defined as an individual who is a member of any federally recognized Native American tribe or group. However, there may be slight variations in these definitions across different organizations.
- How do I get certified as a Native American-owned business?
Not all groups certify Native American-owned business. The SBA, for example, only certifies groups that are socially and economically disadvantaged and defines Native Americans as one example of that kind of group.
Similarly, the National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC) only defines minority groups and includes Native Americans in their definition of “minority.”
To get a better idea of whether specific states certify Native American-owned businesses, get in touch with a state’s office for minority business. Another good resource is the state’s American Indian Chambers of Commerce (AICC). While not all states have AICCs, many western states do, such as New Mexico and Oklahoma.
- Are there tribal resources for starting a business?
Yes, but these resources vary from tribe to tribe. To get a clearer picture of what a specific Native American tribe offers Native-owned businesses, you might want to reach out to that specific tribe.
- What are tribal businesses?
There’s no official definition of a tribal business. One definition is any business that is primarily owned and operated by an American Indian tribe.
Another definition of a tribal business is any business that is either chartered under local American Indian tribal laws or under Section 17 of the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA).
In either case, a tribal business is different from a typical business, which is organized and operated according to the laws of a certain state.
- What is a tribal enterprise?
A “tribal enterprise” is defined by 25 USCS § 4302 (8) as any “commercial activity or business managed or controlled by an Indian Tribe.”