Help for American Indian Entrepreneurs

By Karen E. Klein
May 24, 2013

Bloomberg Business Week


Karen Klein
Karen Klein

Question: My husband and I want to start a small business out of our home in Washington State. We are both Native Americans from Montana. Where can we get help and advice?

Answer: There is general help for entrepreneurs provided through the U.S. Small Business Administration. For American Indians, Native Alaskans, and Native Hawaiians, the SBA’s Office of Native American Affairs offers specialized help, entrepreneurial development training, and lending and procurement programs.

A free, self-paced business training course, developed specifically for American Indian business owners, might be a good place for you to start. It’s called Native American Small Business Primer: Strategies for Success, says Chris James, assistant administrator of the Office of Native American Affairs.

The course covers basics such as business planning, market research, raising funds, borrowing money, and ownership structures. It also includes a section on how to realistically estimate startup costs, James says.

Contact the SBA office in Spokane or Seattle for counseling or mentoring from an SBA representative or outside adviser, he says. Through the district office, you can learn about what’s offered through the SBA’s Minority Enterprise Development and Score programs.

Another source of specialized help is available through the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Indian Affairs office. Its Division of Capital Investment administers the Indian Loan Guaranty Program, says spokeswoman Nedra Darling. It “maximizes limited budget resources by providing a guarantee to lenders, providing access to capital to Indian-owned businesses,” and can assist you after you develop a business plan and determine what kind of funding your startup will require.

“Specifically, this program provides a risk mitigant to a lender who would provide the startup capital necessary to get your business in operation and stabilized,” Darling wrote in an e-mail. “DCI is the only federal guarantee program with the specific mission of promoting economic development on Indian reservations and tribal service areas. There are requirements your business must meet to be eligible for this program.”

Until this year, the Indian Affairs office sponsored annual training sessions for American Indian and tribal entrepreneurs in Montana, but federal budget cuts under the 2013 sequestration legislation have eliminated those events. The cuts also canceled meetings that linked native business owners one-on-one with prime contractors and government procurement officers who are potential buyers of native goods and services, according to Darling.

To get more information on how the Bureau of Indian Affairs might provide you with help, contact its Northwest regional office in Portland, Ore. Good luck!

Klein is a Los Angeles-based writer who covers entrepreneurship and small-business issues