Microenterprise Development Class  1 - Group Photo

Dreamstarter Incubator Grant supports small native-owned businesses

In August 2022, Running Strong for American Indian Youth® announced a new, exciting expansion of our Dreamstarter program –Dreamstarter Incubator, designed to continue supporting the dreams of Native youth for long-term.

2019 Dreamstarter Josh Smith (Osage Nation) was the recipient of the first incubator grant and used his grant to develop a Microenterprise Development program to support Native entrepreneurs with the goal of empowering entrepreneurship within tribal communities through zero-interest micro-loans of up to $5,000, along with practical business training, mentorship and networking opportunities.

Josh, an entrepreneur himself who founded his Ekowah Coffee business, has an incredible passion for Native-owned businesses and supporting Native entrepreneurs in his community and beyond and had a very successful first year assisting the four small Native businesses participating in the program.

Through the program each of the businesses, all located in Oklahoma – Native Unlimited in Tulsa, The Dirty Laundry Saloon and The Summer House in Pawhuska, and Roots + Blooms in Bartletsville – received a $5,000 no-interest loan and business development/marketing training throughout the year.

Among the recipients was Jordan Garza who founded Native Unlimited in May 2022 focusing on providing authentic Native American crafts and art for sale to the public. As a beader and an artist, Jordan decided to start her own small business bringing her own work to events to sell. She reported that the loan, which she used to purchase tables, display cases and an enclosed trailer, was incredibly helpful to her in launching her business.

“We want to keep the culture alive and open doors for other Native American people searching for a place to belong and learn,” says Jordan.

Eric Wick of the Dirty Laundry Saloon used his loan to purchase the final piece of equipment necessary to transform his small boutique café into a full-fledged restaurant. “We are adamant that Pawshuka is in desperate need of a restaurant for the locals and tourists alike,” says Eric, explaining that his goal is “to create something that people will travel to Pawhuska to experience.”

Shannon Duty, co-owner of The Summer House, used most of her loan to purchase a machine that enables her to burn and engrave items to create customized woodcraft to sell which has allowed her to keep up with the high demand for their products.

And Whitney Virden, owner of Roots + Blooms, a full-service flower shop that specializes in events, weddings and hosting workshops, says her mission is to connect our community to nature by making flowers more accessible. “Flowers connect us to nature and give insight to our Creator. His promises are seen in the beauty of His creations.”

Josh reported this month that each business is thriving: Roots + Blooms was able to successfully launch its second location and has expanded its offerings to include floral design classes; Native Unlimited has seen “truly remarkable growth” and was able to accept a massive bulk order thanks to the supplies purchased through the program; Summer House, with the equipment it purchased is now able “to greatly decrease the time it takes them to produce their woodwork” and expand into more intricate designs; and the Dirty Laundry Saloon “has completed their remodel and opened their lunch restaurant. They are creating some fantastic dishes with a focus on locally grown produce and offering healthier options.”

Josh said that based on responses from the group, “one of the main impacts of this program is the courage gained simply from having someone willing to believe in them enough to invest time and money into their idea. Our participants last year said that having that push made them think about what could be possible and pushed them to believe in themselves as well.

“They also talked about how impactful it was to sit across from a fellow entrepreneur, hear their stories, and know they aren’t in this alone. I believe this will have an even more substantial impact in an area like Pine Ridge, where finding a group of entrepreneurs to connect with is not as easy as it might be in a city.”

In July, Josh expanded his microenterprise development program to Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota in collaboration with our Oyate Ta Kola Ku (Friend of All Nations) Community Center to offer the same no-interest loans to five Native businesses on the reservation.

Josh held business development workshops and began walking Lakota entrepreneurs through the process of applying. By attending the free workshop, participants gained valuable tools, guidance and inspiration to turn their dreams into reality.

This expansion demonstrates the commitment of Running Strong and our partners to empower Native entrepreneurs and support economic growth in tribal communities, which included a business plan workshop at the community center that was open to both existing small business owners and individuals with great ideas for new businesses.

Josh reported that he had about a dozen attendees both times he visited Pine Ridge, with businesses ranging from sustainably designed clothing to lawn care.

“Several are in the food service industry and are looking to improve upon their existing restaurant or food truck, and several others produce quilts and are hoping to increase their business to provide a more substantial income for their family,” he reported.

This month, the microenterprise development program is seeking applications from Native American business owners and entrepreneurs in northeast Oklahoma and Pine Ridge (or the surrounding area) for micro-loans before the deadline of Friday, October 13.

These loans not only benefit the business owners themselves, but studies show that micro-businesses make a more significant contribution to reducing poverty in rural communities than larger businesses. Micro-businesses contribute to the local economy by generating income, and they uniquely develop a community’s sense of place and personality – things that are desperately needed in Native and tribal communities.

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