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Friday, September 25, 2015

The rise of Native American entrepreneurs

Kathryn Cave, Editor at IDG Connect summarizes, "How are things changing for Native American business people?" 

Photo: IDG Connect

North of Minneapolis, west of Lake Superior, in the heart of the Minnesota countryside, is the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa reservation for Native Americans. Ancestors of this group of Indians have reportedly lived on the site since 800AD, a date which makes most North American protestations of “it’s so old” look ludicrous. This is the tribe that T. David Petite hails from.

Petite is a true Native American entrepreneurial role model. He is one of the five early key inventors of Wireless Mesh technology and a founded the Native American Inventors Association in 2009.

So, why don’t more Native Americans follow his lead and use entrepreneurship as a way out of economic hardship? Well, the simple answer is they’re beginning to. Opportunities are starting to open up but this group is still dogged by core challenges.

In an initial blog on this subject, Emily Fetsch of the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation highlighted stats from the 2010 US Census which revealed that more than 334 federally official reservations, 565 tribes, and 5.2 million Native Americans exist across the continent. This is a significant number of people. Yet she showed Native Americans are nearly twice as likely to live below the poverty line, than other North Americans. They are also more likely to be unemployed and less likely to be entrepreneur.

As she revealed in part two of the series, published at the start of August, this is the result of five main areas of difficulty. These are: a lack of education and job experience; isolated geography; fewer networks and mentors; problematic local structures; along with discrimination and oppression.

When we caught up with Veronica Hix, Executive Director at Our Native American Business Network (ONABEN) – an organisation which aims to support Native individuals across the throughout the US, including Hawaii and Native Alaska ­ – she seconded a lot of this.

“Access to capital continues to be an obstacle that many Native entrepreneurs face,” she told us. “[While] infrastructure is also a challenge in some Native communities.” 

Technology may make entrepreneurship easier for most groups as it provides wider access to information and online commerce. However Hix warned: “I will say, that while technology has provided opportunity, the availability of technology is sometimes limited in Native communities”. 

The good news though, is that more groups and organisations are springing up to counteract these issues. Hix herself started out in PR for Cherokee Nation but “wanted to be on the ground making a difference” so she initially moved into the Commerce Department and now is at ONABEN where she “works with entrepreneurs and small business owners, and the resources designed to grow the capacity of the small business community”.
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Source: IDG Connect