Capitalism Reimagined | July 21, 2021

Native-led organizations join forces to accelerate entrepreneurship in Indian Country

Jessica Pothering
ImpactAlpha Editor

Jessica Pothering

ImpactAlpha, July 21 – U.S. tribal lands are among the hardest places in the world to do business, with entrepreneurs struggling to access capital, land, infrastructure and reliable Internet connectivity. Four Native-led organizations are launching a joint organization to help businesses in tribal communities secure funding and resources.

“None of our organizations can effectively tackle the systemic challenges alone,” says Dave Castillo of Native Community Capital, itself the product of a 2019 merger of community development financial institutions in Arizona and New Mexico.

With New Mexico Community Capital, Change Labs and Native Women Lead, Native Community Capital is launching a new organization to handle administrative, operational, data and fundraising functions to enable Native entrepreneurship support organizations to focus on their communities, primarily in the Southwest.

“As a collective network we can make real progress towards economic sovereignty, not just for Indigenous people but all people denied access to capital and wealth creation,” says Native Women Lead’s Jaime Gloshay.

The initiative is backed by a $3 million grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. The four organizations will determine their own metrics for success.

“When we talk about business success in tribal communities, it almost never has anything to do with financials or growth. It’s about giving back to the community,” Change Labs’ Heather Fleming tells ImpactAlpha. “The Silicon Valley metrics that are so often used as a reference for business success are by no means what Native entrepreneurs aspire to, so it doesn’t make sense for our organizations to be evaluated by those standards.”

Accelerating the accelerators 

A report from Change Labs last year found that the business environment on the Navajo Nation, for example, is on par with Zimbabwe and the Central African Republic (see, “Overcoming obstacles to Navajo entrepreneurship“). The federal Bureau of Indian Affairs is preparing new rules to give Native communities greater say over the design of such business ecosystems through a new Indian Business Incubators Program.

Specifically, the rule aims to direct federal funds made available under the Native American Business Incubators Program Act of 2020 directly to tribes, tribal institutions and nonprofits to establish and/or fund business incubators.

“The hope is to see that federal funding helping Native communities build their own entrepreneurial support infrastructure, rather paying for non-Native business incubators and business support organizations to establish programs or cohorts in Native communities,” says Fleming. “A lot of tribes are interested in starting their own incubators, and this could provide the funding to do that.”