Academic journal article Academy of Entrepreneurship Journal

Non-Traditional vs. Traditional Entrepreneurs: Emergence of a Native American Comparative Profile of Characteristics and Barriers

Academic journal article Academy of Entrepreneurship Journal

Non-Traditional vs. Traditional Entrepreneurs: Emergence of a Native American Comparative Profile of Characteristics and Barriers

Article excerpt


The goal of this research paper was to assess the current status and history of entrepreneurship and small businesses of Native Americans living and working in Wisconsin and Minnesota. O'Hare reports that in the latest U.S. Census Report, Native Americans owned and started the fewest small businesses of all minority groups in the United States (25). The goal of the U.S. Census Report is to gather numerical data and not provide possible explanations, consequently no rationale for these figures was given. This finding, however, demonstrates that there is a uniqueness regarding entrepreneurship and Native American ethnic background. For this reason, the authors decided to compare Native and Non-Native Americas on their entrepreneurial characteristics and perceived inhibitors to small business start-ups.


A review of current literature failed to provide either a discussion of the possible factors for the low number of small businesses started by these non-traditional entrepreneurs or very focused research done seeking to provide possible reasons for this situation. There has been scant research on Native American entrepreneurship and small businesses in general (Cook, 1983; Jamieson, 1990; Robey, 1983; Schifrin, 1987). Most information available regarding Native American businesses has been compiled by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs and has focused on tribal businesses such as natural resource development enterprises, production of Native American tourist products and gambling casinos (American Indians, 1991; Cohen, 1989; Cook, 1983; Swepston, 1987).

In addition to the intrigue over the census data, the authors were interested in the research topic since in this two state region (Wisconsin and Minnesota) there are relatively more Native American students as a minority group compared with other minorities located in the regional colleges and universities but few are taking degrees in any business administration majors despite the many scholarships available to Native American students, both private and governmental. If such scholarships are not sufficient a stimulus for Native American students to study business administration and economics, what strategies could be implemented to attract Native American students to careers in business?


The importance of such a study relates to the fact that very few Native Americans have started small businesses. In fact, "American Indians are the least likely of any major American racial and ethnic group to own a business, with only 1 Indian in 100 a business owner" (O'Hare, 1992, 32). What are the reasons for this? What are the social, cultural, political, legal and/or economic factors which inhibit this or encourage movement into other areas of work? Perhaps we can turn to some international studies for the answers. In many non-industrialized countries, social values and attitudes of the indigenous population do not encourage business ownership as the societies were communal and/or were agriculture or hunting based (Akbar, 1990; Aldrich, 1990; Aldrich & Waldinger, 1990; Brockhaus, 1982; Danandjaja, 1987; Waldinger, Aldrich & Ward, 1992). Additionally, many countries have histories of colonial governments and/or expatriate populations which have controlled the economic systems and small business enterprises (Chan & Chiang, 1993; Fratoe, 1986; Geottery, 1992; Reynolds, 1991; Reynolds & Miller, 1990; Townsand, 1999).

The significance of studying Native American entrepreneurship and small business development would be to identify the possible factors which impact on the behavior of Native Americans. Knowing which factors serve as barriers would also be a step in developing strategies to overcome these factors and ease the way for development policies which could be used by the SBA's Small Business Development Centers, State Economic Development Centers, and universities in their regional economic development and recruitment efforts aimed at Native Americans. …

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