March 9th, 2021 Last Updated on: March 10th, 2021
While the number of Native American businesses has steadily grown over the past several years, Native-owned firms still represent the smallest number of minority-owned small businesses, according to data from the U.S. Small Business Administration. Part of the problem is the dearth of resources available to help Native entrepreneurs transform their lofty goals into full-fledged businesses.
That’s the idea behind Arrowhead Incubator, Inc.—a Native American nonprofit based in Traverse City, Michigan, designed to empower Native entrepreneurs and bring opportunities to communities that lack representation. Arrowhead launched about a year-and-a-half ago, but it’s gained some notable momentum over the past few months.
The incubator grew out of an idea at a Reservation Economic Summit two years ago. Kyle Anderson, a member of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians and chair and co-founder of the incubator, was ready to build something new after 20 years in the tech industry. He teamed up with Shiloh Slomsky, Arrowhead co-founder and executive director, and together, they pitched the concept to 20Fathoms, a Traverse City tech incubator.
They got the green light.
“We’re an incubator inside of an incubator,” Anderson said, adding that they sought to create an environment free of tribal politics.
Arrowhead's flagship program, the Basic Business Start-Up, teaches entrepreneurs to turn antiquated ideas into powerful, relevant businesses. The eight-week program is held over Zoom and is available to both Native and Non-Native entrepreneurs in the 12-county region of Northwest Michigan as well as the Eastern Upper Peninsula region.
According to Gaia Klotz, project manager, applicants range from artisans to manufacturers to businesses needing retail space.
“Our hope is that this programming will be designed intentionally in a way that’s designed to support folks where they are, when they need it, by providing support on the weekends, later in the evenings and infusing those Native American cultural teachings and passing those forward in a way that kind of separates from a more standardized startup curriculum,” Klotz said.
When individuals complete the program, they become eligible for a startup package, which includes a computer, printer, and paid phone line for three months.
“It’s essentially building up Native wealth in order to increase sovereignty,” Klotz said. “It’s being able to increase the number of jobs that are available within Indian Country and in sovereign nations so that we can support individuals who support families, who support communities, who support networks, who support folks even outside of their region. So, it’s a rising tide when we help our Native counterparts, folks like me, in the white community—our lives improve too.”
Currently, Arrowhead works with two tribes in Michigan: the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians and the Mackinac Bands of Chippewa and Ottawa Indians, a state-recognized tribe. However, Anderson said Arrowhead plans to expand its reach nationally and possibly internationally.
“My goal has been to include all indigenous people,” Anderson said.
That expansion plan is already well underway. Arrowhead recently partnered with New Mexico Community Capital, a nonprofit based in Albuquerque, New Mexico—over 1,600 miles away from Northern Michigan.
For the foreseeable future, Slomsky and Anderson are simply focused on helping more Native businesses sprout and thrive, while staying true to their respective Native cultures. It’s a core part of Arrowhead’s vision and it’s even visible in the company logo, which shows the fusion of traditional and modern ways.
“We don’t want to forget that—ever,” Anderson said.
Featured image: Arrowhead partners with New Mexico Community Capital. (Courtesy Arrowhead Incubator, Inc.)
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