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- There are many grants available to Indigenous business owners
- When looking for business grants, Native American business owners should consider federal, state and private grant funding sources
- Other business financing options and resources exist if grants aren’t the right fit for your business
Indigenous business owners across the globe are contributing to their communities and economies, bringing innovation and tradition together. Yet, the path to success is not always smooth, and access to financial resources can be challenging. The 2022 Small Business Credit Survey by the Federal Reserve Banks found that 36 percent of American Indian or Alaskan Native businesses were fully approved for a loan, line of credit or merchant cash advance application compared to 58 percent of white businesses that were fully approved.
Further, the survey also found that American Indian or Alaskan Native businesses were less likely to use financial services than businesses of other races and ethnicities.
With a lack of access and racial bias that can impact Indigenous- and other minority-owned businesses, the availability of other types of funding, such as grants, is necessary.
From grants designed to preserve cultural heritage to those fostering innovation and economic growth, we’ve outlined the top opportunities and resources to help Indigenous-owned businesses thrive.
Federal small business grants for Indigenous business owners
You can find thousands of grant options through Grants.gov. The federal website allows business owners to search by a variety of criteria, including grants for Native American tribal organizations.
Each grant option is a little different. Once you find a grant you are interested in, you can click on the link and find out all the details of that specific grant.
To apply for a grant through Grants.gov, you will need to register through SAM.gov.Eligibility requirements differ by grant opportunity, so familiarize yourself with each grant before applying. Once you submit your application, you can check the status of your application by entering the tracking number on Grants.gov.
2. Indian Business Incubators Program (IBIP)
The Indian Business Incubators Program (IBIP), also referred to as the Native American Business Incubators Program, provides grant funding for business incubators to support new businesses and entrepreneurs. This program specifically caters to businesses providing products or services to Alaska Native or Native American communities.
Grants awarded through IBIP are awarded for a three-year period by the Department of the Interior. The grants are given to business incubators in qualifying areas that offer business and technical assistance to qualifying businesses. Individual businesses in that area can then receive assistance through that incubator.
Eligible incubators can apply for this grant through Grants.gov. Qualification factors include being able to provide a physical workspace for businesses and offering space for Native American businesses to collaborate.
3. Native American Business Development Institute (NABDI)
Tribes or tribal organizations can apply for a grant from the Native American Business Development Institute (NABDI). This organization provides grants annually for amounts between $25,000 and $75,000. These grants can be used to hire business consultants to conduct feasibility studies or create business plans for certain businesses, technologies or economic development projects.
Interested applicants can apply for this grant through Grants.gov. To apply, you will need to create an NABDI proposal detailing how the project will stimulate economic development in a Native American community.All applications need to include a statement of work, a proposed budget for the project and a duly enacted tribal resolution. Once you apply, you should receive a confirmation email within five business days.
4. Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) Programs
The National Institute of Health (NIH) provides grants to businesses working in underserved communities to promote health equity. These SBIR/STTR program grants are available to small businesses with less than 500 employees serving several communities, including Native American and Alaska Native.
The SBIR/STTR programs aim to support research and community health development in these underserved communities. The NIH wants to empower businesses to help with research addressing the challenges that these health disparities communities face. The programs also aim to create more jobs through these initiatives.
Interested applicants are strongly encouraged to talk with a program official before applying. You can apply for the Health Disparities Pre-Application Program (HDPreApp). This pilot program provides coaching for qualifying small businesses applying for an SBIR/STTR grant.Specific grant opportunities for the year are given on the NIH website. Look at the specific grant opportunity to determine the eligibility requirements and application details.
Additional federal resources
There are a plethora of federal grants and resources available for small businesses. If you are interested in more small business grants for minorities and other business development opportunities, check out these resources:
- SBA 8(a): This nine-year business development program through the Small Business Administration (SBA) is for small businesses operated by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals.
- Sister Sky: Find business empowerment workshops for Native Americans through this organization.
- Office of Native American Affairs: The Office of Native American Affairs is a part of the SBA that works to make sure all Native American small businesses have the resources they need to be successful.
- Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA): The MBDA is a part of the U.S. Department of Commerce. The agency has a variety of grants, specialty centers and other business resources available for minority business enterprises throughout the U.S.
In addition to federal grants, some states have grants for Indigenous-owned businesses. Here are some examples of states that offer grants:
Native American business owners in Montana can apply for a grant through the state’s Indian Equity Fund (IEF). Business owners must be enrolled members of one of the eight federally recognized tribes in Montana to apply. The grants are for up to $14,000 and can be used for a range of business activities, including purchasing new equipment or starting a new product line.
New Mexico has the American Indian Business Enterprise Center (AIBE) to support Native American-owned businesses in the state. AIBE provides a variety of funding opportunities for businesses, including microgrants and a pitch competition with a cash prize.
Indigenous business owners in Washington state can find support through the Native Business Center. The Native Business Center supports for Native American business owners and has grant opportunities on its website. Some of these grants are specifically for Indigenous business owners, while others are minority business grants for underserved communities.
Private small business grants for Indigenous-owned businesses
5. Merchant Maverick Opportunity Grants
Merchant Maverick is a website offering free resources and support to small businesses. The company offers an Opportunity Grant to different minority business owners each year.
For 2023, the grant will be awarded to Native American small business owners. The two grant recipients will receive $10,000 to use however they want to keep their business up and running.
To apply for the Merchant Maverick Opportunity Grant, a business must be registered in the United States and majority-owned by a registered member of a federally recognized Native American or Alaska Native tribe.If your business fits this description, you can easily apply using the application form on their website. The application closes on November 30, 2023.
6. First Nations Development Institute Grants
First Nations is a nonprofit supporting healthy Native American communities throughout the U.S. The organization has provided a variety of Indigenous small business grants throughout its history. They don’t currently have any grant opportunities available, but you can check their website for future opportunities.
Each grant opportunity from First Nations is different. Check their website for specific eligibility and application details.
7. NDN Collective
NDN Collective is a nonprofit working to promote the power of Indigenous peoples through different methods and offers several grants to organizations and businesses that align with their values.
The Changemaker Fellowship supports the leadership development of an individual in an Indigenous community. Community Self-Determinations Grants are provided to Tribal Nations, Communities and organizations to support initiatives that empower Indigenous communities. All grant opportunities available can be found on the NDN Collective website.
Grants are available to Indigenous-led organizations in the U.S. that support the NDN principles. Each grant has specific application instructions, so read about the specific grant you are interested in for application details.
8. Backing Small Businesses
American Express and Main Street America teamed up to create this minority small business grant. Backing Small Businesses offers a grant to economically vulnerable business owners. The last cycle included Native American business owners, LGBTQIA+ business owners and Hispanic or Latinx business owners.
In 2023, Backing Small Businesses offered a $5,000 grant to 350 recipients. Business owners can also apply for the Enhancement Grant if they are awarded the $5,000 grant. This grant goes to 25 recipients and is for an additional $25,000.
To see if you are eligible for the grant, make sure your business fulfills the funding priorities given. If your business fits those priorities, contact American Express to receive an invitation to apply for the grant. You will need to wait for the next round of applications to open before applying.
Additional private resources
As a Native American business owner, you may be looking for more than a business grant. Here are some other resources that provide support for Indigenous business owners:
- Native Entrepreneur in Residence Program: This program, created by a nonprofit in New Mexico, helps Native American entrepreneurs by providing resources and education to become better business owners.
- SCORE: SCORE is a non-profit that partners with the SBA to provide a variety of resources for businesses, including webinars, free mentoring and online educational resources.
- The National Center for Native American Enterprise Development: This organization provides economic support and resources to help American Indian tribes and tribal peoples achieve their business goals.
Alternatives to small business grants
When seeking financial support for your Indigenous small business, grants are not the only option available. Consider the following alternatives:
- Business loans: Various organizations, such as the Accion Opportunity Fund and the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development, offer specialized loans for Indigenous businesses. Additionally, traditional lenders like banks and credit unions provide business loans with varying terms and interest rates.
- Business credit cards: Business credit cards can be a flexible source of financing. They offer revolving credit lines, rewards programs, and the ability to build business credit. Many financial institutions provide business credit card options, allowing you to choose one that suits your specific needs.
- SBA loans: The SBA provides several types of loans, including 7(a) and 504/CDC loans. SBA loans often have favorable terms, such as lower interest rates and longer repayment periods, making them a popular choice for small business owners.
- Crowdfunding: Platforms like Kickstarter, Indiegogo and GoFundMe enable entrepreneurs to raise capital by presenting their business ideas to a broader audience. Supporters can contribute financially to crowdfunding campaigns, often in exchange for rewards or early access to products or services.
While small business grants can be a valuable source of funding, these alternatives offer diverse financing options for entrepreneurs with various needs and circumstances. It’s essential to research and evaluate which option aligns best with your business’s financial goals and objectives.
The bottom line
There are many different grant options available for Indigenous business owners. If you are looking for funding for an Indigenous small business, consider all options. You can find federal, state and private grants or more traditional financing, depending on your business’s needs.
Frequently asked questions
Every institution or organization has different eligibility requirements to register as a Native American-owned business. Typically, businesses are required to be majority-owned — often 51 percent or more — by a blood member of an Alaska Native or Native American community.
According to the 2020 Annual Business Survey, there are over 26,000 Indigenous-owned businesses in the U.S.
Yes, the SBA does offer some grant programs. Current grant programs include grants for COVID-19 relief and grants for community organizations that support entrepreneurs.