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Planting Startup Seeds on Tribal Land

some people doing tribal economic development

When it comes to Native American-owned small businesses, statistics highlight their scarcity. In many states where tribal lands are abundant, less than 1% of businesses are run by Native Americans. Based on population statistics, this figure suggests that barriers for these entrepreneurs are significant. As a result, tribal economic development supports are needed in an effort to overcome these obstacles. Business community development programs that can provide training, finance support, and mentorships can help. Notably, various incubators and accelerators that offer these types of services are increasing among tribal lands. And it’s important to publicize their existence so that Native American businesses can thrive.

someone doing tribal economic development
Once an afterthought, tribal economic development is becoming an important component of regional economic growth.

(Broadband is expanding across Indian Country–read more in this Bold story.)

For some time now, tribal economic development has focused primarily on social supports. Federal and state funding as well as grants have been available that provide family aid and various subsidies. But when it comes to business community development programs, these pale in comparison. While such grants do exist, they are small and few in number. And accessing them can be a complex process. This is why Native American-led organizations have recently begun taking the lead in pursuing tribal business development. It is with these seeds for tribal startups that future prosperity can be better realized. With that in mind, the following discusses some recent developments as it pertains to these tribal startup supports.

University Initiatives for Tribal Businesses

Not every state in the nation has tremendous populations of Native Americans or tribal lands. But in states like Arizona, demographics say otherwise. In fact, there are 22 federally-recognized tribes in the state, yet only 0.8% of businesses are owned by Native Americans. It’s precisely this state of affairs that prompted the University of Arizona to launch its own business community development program. Named Native FORGE, the program hopes to stimulate tribal economic development among the state’s tribes. By teaching standard business vocabulary and concepts of business formation, Native FORGE will provide basic tools. It will also provide mentors for enrollees in the program to further guide them in their entrepreneurial pursuits.

The University of Arizona business community development program is using federally-matched funds to help drive efforts. Over a five-year period, the program will enjoy $500,000 from federal resources alongside its own stimulus funding. The grant has been awarded to the school by the U.S. Economic Development Administration. These funds will not only provide economic development guidance as described but also create a culturally-specific curricula for program attendees. Unfortunately, only five tribal members will be enrolled the first year, but ongoing funds will allow the program to expand. The ultimate goal is to provide the kind of high-quality entrepreneurial supports required to succeed. Thus, initial success could play a strong role in driving such a program forward for years to come.

Native-Led Accelerators for Startups

In addition to schools and federal support programs, there are also a number of Native American-supported incubators as well. These business community development programs are often tailored to specific groups and offer specific services. For example, many enhance tribal economic development through financial assistance and mentoring. Others facilitate training and networking activities. However, all share a common goal to increase the entrepreneurial effort by Native Americans in the country. The following are a few of the more notable organizations that exist today.

  • Resilience Business Incubator – This is a comprehensive business community development program for Native American entrepreneurs. Based in Blue Lake, California, the organization gives enrollees chances to acquire office space, IT equipment, and business training. It also provides guidance in marketing, human relations, and finance. These play large roles in broader tribal economic development in the region over time.
  • Native Entrepreneurs in Residence – This is a business community development program sponsored by the New Mexico Community Capital organization. Based in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the program involves six months of intensive business training. The training is tailored to the specific business being considered, and graduates are invited to peer advisory groups thereafter. This too is helping drive tribal economic development.
  • Change Labs – Based in Tuba City, Arizona, this startup accelerator provides microloans and other types of financial assistance to startups. It also strives to support Native American business owners by offering business-specific guidance and coaching.
  • Cedar Root Business Center – This tribal economic development center boasts two programs within its offerings. The first is the Sprout Ideation Program, which helps kickstart tribal entrepreneurs with new ideas for business. The other is the Root Feasibility Workshop, which tests the practicality and feasibility of a business. Combined, and with one-on-one coaching, tribal business owners can determine how best to launch a potential startup. This program is based in Pacific Beach, Washington.
a bunch of Indians at a powwow
Tribal startups mean growth opportunities–for businesses, for regions, for society as a whole.

Support for Native American Female Entrepreneurs

someone doing business community development program
A business community development program that develop Native American economies can benefit a broad swath of industries.

Certainly, Native Americans face notable barriers when launching a startup business. These barriers can include poor access to education and training as well as to loans and financial capital. However, these obstacles can be even greater for female entrepreneurs. As such, some organizations focused on tribal economic development focus on this stakeholder group. Recognizing the inequalities that exist, they seek to provide a business community development program just for women.

(One of the biggest barriers for female entrepreneurship is funding–read all about it in this Bold story.)

One such organization is Native Women Lead, which was founded in 2017 by eight Native American female entrepreneurs. The organization provides access to capital to tribal women starting a business. They also offer mentors, finance education, and other social and networking supports. Specific tribal economic development funds include their Matriarch Creative Fund and their Matriarch Restorative Fund. The former looks to fund businesses in the creative arts while the latter is more inclusive of all business types. To date, the organization has award over $5000,000 to 65 different Native American women. And it’s looking to expand further with collaborative initiatives with larger non-profit organizations.

Creating a Tribal Entrepreneurial Pipeline

In today’s climate of challenging startup capital, a business community development program is more important than ever. This is especially true for tribal economic development and Native American entrepreneurs. The list of support organizations above are thus needed for these business-minded populations. Not only will training, financial support, and access to resources advance the number of Native American businesses. But they will also create a foundation of businesses and entrepreneurs that can support future tribal developments. It all starts with a seed of support, and these are the entities that envision a brighter future for tribal businesses.


Affirmative Action is dying on the vine in education, but when will it hit the workplace? Read up on it in this Bold story.

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