By Shawn Pensoneau and Dan Nordberg
The rich and vibrant culture of Native Americans is deeply woven in the fabric of the United States, and the history of innovation and entrepreneurship remains rooted in tribal communities. To honor this storied legacy, President Donald Trump designated November as Native American Heritage Month, saying: “As business owners, artists, teachers, writers, courageous members of our Armed Forces, and so much more, their contributions to our society are cause for celebration and appreciation by all Americans. This month, as we honor the heritage of Native American Tribes and people, we resolve to support their legacy and communities for generations to come.”
In the U.S. today, more than 54 percent of Native Americans live in rural areas, and 273,000 businesses are Native-owned. In recent years, Native Americans have had an increased impact on national business development as operations owned by Native Americans grew by 15 percent between 2007 to 2012, according to the most recent data.
The U.S. Small Business Administration is committed to the health and success of tribal entrepreneurial development and is working aggressively to increase access to funding and opportunities for rural Native American-owned small businesses.
Through free tailored technical assistance, the agency aims to promote business development for Native entrepreneurs and businesses on reservations. This no-cost technical assistance is available for a variety of business types and in several key areas including starting a business, business plan development, financial planning, computer literacy, marketing, human resources, government contracting and financial management. More information about programs specific to tribal nations can be found at sba.gov in the Native American-owned businesses resource section.
Traditional SBA lending programs can also support economic development for Native entrepreneurs. SBA’s resources are geared to help provide capital to small businesses, such as 7(a) loans that can help provide working capital, purchase real estate, equipment or inventory for a small business, or can be used to refinance business debt. The 504 Certified Development Company Loan is useful for purchasing heavy equipment or renovating real estate by providing competitive fixed-rate financing. Microloans allow eligible businesses to start or grow with working capital for supplies, equipment, furniture and fixtures by borrowing $500 to $50,000 and accessing free business counseling from microlenders. Find more specifics on these programs at sba.gov/rural.
Additionally, the Small Business Innovation Research Program and Small Business Technology Transfer are part of the SBA’s America’s Seed Fund that provides over $4 billion to startups and small businesses each year. SBIR and STTR funds are strategically aimed to foster innovation and entrepreneurship. Through a competitive process, small businesses can submit proposals that address specific research and development needs with the potential for commercialization. Learn more about SBIR and STTR at sbir.gov.
This November, the SBA is proud to honor the growing number of Native American entrepreneurs, a vitally important economic driver for advancement throughout rural communities around the country. As leaders within the agency, we will continue partnering with tribal and rural leaders as we seek to expand opportunities and promote small business growth.
Pensoneau is the SBA’s Assistant Administrator for the Office of Native American Affairs and is an enrolled member of the Kickapoo Tribe of Oklahoma. Nordberg serves as the SBA’s National Director for Rural Affairs.
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