Small Business Resources for Native American Entrepreneurs

In honor of Native American Heritage Month, we’re exploring the resources available to entrepreneurs, including the SBA’s 8(a) Business Development Program.

Nicola McIntosh Nov 25, 2019

Gary and Carmen Davis are an entrepreneurial husband-and-wife duo who have made it their mission to promote Native American business, entrepreneurship and economic development.

“Our Native ancestors demonstrated entrepreneurship, sustainability and self-sufficiency,” Gary Davis, founder, publisher and CEO of Native Business Magazine, said in a recent article. “They stand as an example of how we can empower ourselves and be sovereign in our own lives.”

In honor of Native American Heritage Month, we’re exploring the resources available to Native American-owned firms, which number 272,000 and generate $39 billion in annual receipts, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy

SBA’s “Resource Guide for American Indians, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians” offers a wealth of information about SBA programs and services, including the 8(a) Business Development Program, which was created to help small socially and economically disadvantaged businesses compete and gain access to the federal procurement market.

8(a) Business Development Program

The federal government has a goal of awarding at least 5% of all federal contracting dollars to small, disadvantaged businesses every year. Disadvantaged businesses in the 8(a) program can:

  • Compete for set-aside and sole-source contracts in the program
  • Work with a Business Opportunity Specialist to help navigate federal contracting
  • Form joint ventures with established businesses through the SBA's mentor-protégé  program
  • Receive management and technical assistance, including business training, counseling, marketing assistance, and executive development

To qualify for the 8(a) program, you must:

  • Be a small business according to SBA’s size standards
  • Have not already participated in the 8(a) program
  • Be at least 51% owned and controlled by U.S. citizens who are economically and socially disadvantaged
  • Be owned by someone whose personal net worth is $250,000 or less
  • Be owned by someone whose average adjusted gross income for three years is $250,000 or less
  • Be owned by someone with $4 million or less in assets
  • Have the owner manage day-to-day operations and also make long-term decisions
  • Have all principals demonstrate good character
  • Show potential for success and be able to perform successfully on contracts

To get a preliminary assessment of whether you qualify for the 8(a) program, visit the SBA Certify website.

One Entrepreneur’s Experience

Boise entrepreneur Tom Morton owns LCG, a Native-American and veteran-owned small business federal contracting firm that specializes in project management for U.S. Government Facilities’ Services and Construction projects. 

Five years after founding his company in 2002, Morton began to pursue 8(a) certification. Compared to working with companies in the private sector, “There are laws and expectations, there are also more tools to forecast your opportunities and go get them,” he says. “Small contractors in the open market are being feasted on by larger firms. You don’t have any leverage as a small business. That’s why government contracting is attractive, you can get your foot in the door.”

Morton says the process to become a federal contractor can be difficult, but he attended SBA conferences and networked with owners of established firms to navigate the process. “My military background was huge,” adds the Navy veteran.

“There’s just certain hurdles, for example, a lot of the websites have passwords that change weekly. I have four pages of passwords, it’s the little things like that which are irritating” Morton explains. “There’s the technical side of managing it: The logistics of producing your capability statements over years of contracting, marketing your past performance and your financial and bonding capabilities.”

Tom Morton
Tom Morton

He says at the end of the day, it’s a human game. “If you’re wasting (the government’s) time by not being professional, they’re not going to pick you,” Morton says. “There are hundreds of (firms) to pick from.”

While the rewards can be substantial, the risks are, too, including fines for missing deadlines. “Fulfill you contractual obligations and it will always work in your favor, even if a project goes sideways.”

Still, the outdoor enthusiast says he’s fortunate to do what he does. “I take jobs in cool places, places I want to go,” Morton said. “I spent the last four months in Wyoming climbing mountains and fishing, working for the BLM.”

Additional resources for Native American entrepreneurs

The National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development is the largest national Indian-specific business organization in the nation with more than 40 years of experience helping American Indian Tribes and their enterprises with business and economic development. The center’s Native Edge online business ecosystem offers networking, hiring, training, procurement and capital resources. The Procurement Technical Assistance Center provides complimentary professional business consulting services and technical assistance to Native American-owned businesses regarding marketing to federal, state, local and tribal governments as well as large prime contractors.

The Native American Contractors Association’s mission is “Protecting the rights of Indigenous peoples to create economic development through government contracting, based upon the unique legal and political relationship between Indigenous peoples and the United States.” The organization provides trainings, site visits, and webinars for its members to help enhance their success in the federal contracting industry. The trade association also advocates on behalf of its members on issues relevant to federal contracting. 

Zions Bank has a long history of support for entrepreneurs, and has been the top SBA 7(a) lender for 26 years in Utah and 18 years in Idaho. 

We offer online tools including business templates, columns, videos and financial calculators. Our Business Resource Centers in Salt Lake City and Boise, Idaho, provide counseling and training for entrepreneurs.

Visit a Zions Bank branch or locate a banker near you to learn more about financing including SBA loans.

Nicola McIntosh is Social Media manager for Zions Bank.

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