Native American entrepreneurs in Illinois have an opportunity to share in the state’s small business COVID-19 relief initiative that aims to pump $250 million into companies that have not qualified for previous state or federal assistance programs.
The Back to Business grant is a continuation of the Business Interruption Grant that brought $580 million to Illinois small businesses affected by the pandemic. The new grants will be provided on a first come, first serve basis, and will range from $5,000 to $150,000. To qualify, companies must show they lost revenue in 2020 compared to 2019.
“This (Back to Business grant) further assists companies that suffered from the pandemic,” Andrew Johnson, executive director of the Native American Chamber of Commerce of Illinois and member of the Cherokee Nation, told Tribal Business News.
To help get word about the program out to Native American small business owners, the state tapped the Native American Chamber of Commerce of Illinois to lead outreach initiatives. In a hub-and-spoke model, the Chamber then partnered with three Native- and women-owned businesses — Itasca, Ill.-based Visionary Ventures NFP Corp., Glencoe, Ill.-based Wolf River Consulting Group LLC, and Chicago-based Native American Financial Literacy Services LLC — to offer culturally appropriate engagement to Native communities throughout Illinois.
Together, the companies are working to make Native American businesses aware of the Back to Business grant and help provide them resources to apply.
Johnson estimates Native American businesses number in the low hundreds in Illinois, which is lower per capita than in other states. He hopes the Back to Business grant will aid Native American businesses and encourage newer businesses to increase these numbers.
“We know the spirit in all of us is entrepreneurial and is something we need to tap into so we can have more businesses represented in the state,” Johnson said.
Shelly Tucciarelli, the executive director of Visionary Ventures and a member of the Oneida Nation, is part of the team contacting all the Native American businesses in Illinois and providing resources to help in the application process for the Back to Business grant.
“We all have a list of all the businesses and Andrew has gone through to assign us to reach out and call them,” said Tucciarelli. “We are trying to call every business to see if we can help them with the application process.”
Tucciarelli hopes they can make a lasting relationship with business owners and continue providing resources to help business owners even beyond the grant.
“We are seeing if they (business owners) would like to join the Native American Chamber of Commerce so when this program is over we can continue our communication and continue to be able to help our Native American community in Illinois,” Tucciarelli said. “This is a startup and we want to continue helping them.
“We’re continuing our fight in Illinois to get what we can for our Native American community.”
Chantay Moore, director of Native American Financial Literacy Services and a member of the Navajo Nation, will be providing financial literacy workshops to primarily Native American communities. One challenge: The state of Illinois lacks any federally recognized tribes, so the partners have no official tribal channels to access the state’s Native American communities.
“A lot of those resources from those tribes do not reach the state of Illinois,” Moore said. “It’s really important for Native communities across the state to know there are resources, which we typically don’t see directly through our tribes.”
Moreover, the partners also hope to begin providing Native youth with resources for entrepreneurship.
“We want to build an internship program so we can bring our youth to the table and encourage them to get education,” Tucciarelli said.
Moore said she encourages Native American people to explore entrepreneurship as a way to achieve financial independence and gain the ability to provide their families with financial stability.
“We believe that folks deserve to be empowered, educated and deserve to have the opportunity to learn and become entrepreneurs or grow their businesses to be sustainable, which will help their families and Native communities,” Moore said.