Going Into Business? SBA’s Chris James Is Here to Help

Chris James is in the business of making sure American Indians, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians can become successful entrepreneurs.
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Chris James, associate administrator for the Small Business Administration's Office of Native American Affairs (ONAA), is in the business of making sure American Indians, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians have the tools, products and services they need to become successful entrepreneurs.

“ONAA is a gateway for all of the SBA’s entrepreneurial development, lending and procurement programs” in Indian country, says James, and his office wants to talk to you if you are interested in creating, developing or expanding a small business.

James is a descendent of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians from North Carolina. His family has owned and operated small businesses on the Qualla Boundary for more than half a century.

The SBA has myriad resources to help Native Americans start and grow their business enterprises. “[We offer] access to capital and contracting opportunities to small business owners, as well as counseling services,” James says.

The administration’s Native American Entrepreneurial Empowerment Workshops, James explains, “are two-day trainings designed to provide aspiring Native entrepreneurs with the knowledge and resources to successfully launch their businesses, as well as support the growth of established Native-owned enterprises.”

More than $10 billion in federal government contracts went to Native American-owned small businesses over the past year, according to James.

To help tribes get started with federal contracting, he says, the SBA presents “workshops for American Indian, Alaskan Native, and Native Hawaiian-owned corporations interested in joining the SBA’s 8(a) program, focusing on business development and the unique rules and considerations of the 8(a) program. The sessions address the many challenges faced by Native businesses and offer operational and leadership strategies to build capacity, foster growth and expansion, and ensure sustainability. Technical assistance is also provided to participating organizations.”

SBA can also help Native American business owners get funding. “In 2014, SBA guaranteed over $100 million in loans to Native American businesses. SBA participates in a number of loan programs designed for business owners who may have trouble qualifying for traditional bank loans,” James says.

“To start the [loan guarantee] process, readers should visit a local bank or lending institution that participates in SBA’s lending programs. SBA loan applications are structured to meet SBA requirements, so that the loan is eligible for an SBA guarantee. This guarantee represents the portion of the loan that SBA will repay to the lender if [the borrower] defaults on their loan payments.”

SBA’s Office of Native American Affairs has more than 50 training events planned for 2015. Registration links can be found at www.SBA.gov/NAA. The ONAA staff travel around the country conducting presentations at a variety of conferences and meeting with tribes. ONAA also works in coordination with other federal agency offices to assist in formulating policies specific to Native populations.

More information about the services ONAA offers is available at www.SBA.gov/NAA, or by contacting ONAA@sba.gov.

James has this advice for Indian country. “The most important thing I would tell tribes and Native American entrepreneurs is to not sit on the sidelines but be proactive and engage with SBA’s Office of Native American Affairs and the federal government.

“The SBA is personally invested in the success of our nation’s entrepreneurs, and my office and the agency as a whole want to work with you. There are a variety of opportunities and assistance programs available to you in starting and scaling up your business, so please reach out to connect and learn more.”

This is the fourth in a series of articles introducing federal officials with portfolios in Indian country.

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