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Native American entrepreneurs get businesses incubator boost

Two congressional powerhouses who champion Native American issues have seen a new bill they supported signed into law.

The law sets up business incubators for Native American businesses and entrepreneurs. It requires the Department of the Interior to establish a grant program in the Office of Indian Energy and Economic Development for “establishing and operating business incubators that serve Native American communities.”

On Sept. 21, the House of Representatives passed the “Native American Business Incubators Program Act,” after Rep. Deb Haaland, D-NM, introduced it in 2019.

Rep. Deb Haaland, D-NM

A companion bill was championed in the Senate by Sen. Tom Udall, D-NM – and ultimately passed. (Udall had introduced the legislation in the Senate years ago). President Donald Trump signed the bill into law Oct. 20.

In essence, a business incubator is a way to help startup businesses grow and thrive through free or low cost workspace, mentorship and expertise, access to investors, and in some cases, working capital in the form of a loan.

According to the national nonprofit lending network Accion, those involved in incubators typically work around other entrepreneurial businesses that have a similar focus.

“Joining an incubator is almost like joining a college program: You have to apply, be accepted, and then follow a schedule in order to meet benchmarks set by the incubator. You’ll also need to commit to a length of time to be a part of the incubator,” Accion states.

The new law states that grant applicants may be from institutions of higher education, private nonprofits, Native American tribes or tribal nonprofits.

The Department of Interior must issue a grant for a three-year term and may renew a grant for up to three more years. There are other requirements and guidelines that recipients must follow.

“These business incubators will provide Native businesses and Native entrepreneurs with tailored technical assistance, financing, skills training, and access to a network of similar professionals and potential investors, the Native American Finance Officers Association (NAFOA) said in a statement. “The goal is to give participants the skills and tools they need to be innovative and to grow their businesses to better serve Native communities.”

NAFOA has been supportive of the bill since it was initially introduced years ago.

“We congratulate Congresswoman Haaland and Senator Udall for all the hard work they have put in to push this bill across the finish line,” the statement read. “NAFOA will continue to work with Congress, the Department of Interior, and tribes to help ensure the program’s success once the implementation process begins.

More can be found at nafoa.org.

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Damon Scott
Damon is a multimedia journalist for the Seminole Tribune. He has previously been an editor and reporter for digital and print media in Florida and his home state of New Mexico. Send him an email at damonscott@semtribe.com.
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