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Helping to Boost Business Development for Native American Entrepreneurs

Native American Heritage Month is a time to reflect on the significant contributions the first Americans made to the establishment and growth of the U.S.

Ed. note: This is cross-posted on the U.S. Small Business Administration's blog. See the original post here.

Native American Heritage Month is a time to reflect on the significant contributions the first Americans made to the establishment and growth of the U.S. The month is a time for Native people to share their culture, traditions, art, and ways of knowing with the entire nation. American Indians and Alaskan Natives were also the country’s first entrepreneurs, and the SBA is working hard every day to ensure that the entrepreneurial spirit of Native people continues to thrive.

The SBA’s Office of Native American Affairs offers a variety of Entrepreneurial Empowerment workshops nationwide. These workshops provide specialized training to new entrepreneurs and to established Native American businesses that are positioned to grow. They are developed to be culturally relevant and responsive to the challenges and needs of their communities.

This year alone we’ve held 19 workshops in 17 states, and more than 50 tribes have sent representatives. We also hold 8(a) business development workshops nationwide that focus on the unique rules and considerations for tribally and Native-owned corporations and organizations. In 2014, over 500 individuals representing 109 different tribal communities attended these sessions. In 2015, we will be increasing our number of workshops to ensure that we reach even more entrepreneurs throughout Indian Country.

American Indian veterans have played a vital and distinguished role in the United States military for over two hundred years. In fact, Native Americans serve at a higher rate than all other service members.

In partnership with the SBA’s Office of Veterans Business Development, we held a Native American veteran-focused event called “Boots to Business: Reboot” this August in Albuquerque, New Mexico, which saw over 125 veterans join to receive entrepreneurial training.

Several months ago I had the opportunity to moderate a roundtable in Oregon City, Oregon, with my colleague Patrice Kunesh, Deputy Under Secretary of Rural Development at the USDA. Our panelists included SBA Administrator Maria Contreras-Sweet and Phil Karsting, USDA Administrator of the Foreign Agricultural Service. At the roundtable, we hosted 40 American Indian small business owners and tribal leadership representing nearly 15 different tribes nationally. The discussion included the importance of international trade for our Native businesses as well as Foreign Trade Zones as a potential economic driver. The participants ranged in age from tribal elders to young entrepreneurs fresh out of college.

I hosted another roundtable in Los Angeles with Administrator Contreras-Sweet and the California American Indian Chamber of Commerce in September. Common threads brought by participants at both events were strong entrepreneurial ideas and a desire to make a difference in their communities. My family has owned small businesses in Cherokee, North Carolina, for several generations, so I could strongly relate to the concerns, needs, and questions of those in attendance.

For the past 15 years I have worked with Native entrepreneurs and small business owners throughout the U.S., helping them access the tools they need to start, maintain, and grow their entrepreneurial ventures. In the past year, the SBA has provided over 100 million dollars in SBA loans and microloans to firms owned by Native Americans. Across the federal government we have also provided over 10 billion dollars in small business contracts to Native-owned businesses through the 8(a) program.

As my office looks toward 2015, I am excited for what lies ahead. We will be rolling out numerous new initiatives in the coming months, and we are looking forward to meeting the challenge of increasing the strength and number of successful Native American-owned businesses throughout the nation.

The interactions I have every day leave me with no doubt that the strength and power of America’s entrepreneurial spirit is as strong in Indian Country as it has ever been. Let’s work together to ensure that both today’s and tomorrow’s Native American entrepreneurs have the resources they need to make their business dreams a reality as they spur job creation and economic opportunity in their communities.