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Success and Growth in Aboriginal-Owned Businesses

by Sharon Ferriss
The first in-depth research in a decade shows that Aboriginal small business owners across Canada are growing in numbers and experiencing widespread success in terms of profitability and growth, but also in ways that go beyond the bottom line. And, despite the challenges of business ownership, 70% of Aboriginal business owners are clearly optimistic about future revenue growth, finds a new report from the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business (CCAB).

“The survey results paint a powerful picture of the many entrepreneurship and employment opportunities within the Aboriginal small business community,” says Nancy Schaefer, President of the CERIC Board. “For us, the research provides career counsellors and others in the career development field with new information on a valuable source of jobs and training for both Aboriginals and non-Aboriginals.”

The number of Aboriginal business owners and entrepreneurs is growing at five times the rate of self-employed Canadians overall, according to CCAB’s research, titled Promise and Prosperity: The Aboriginal Business Survey. Aboriginal businesses are diverse, and are not limited to any one region, industry sector or market.

With the last comprehensive study of Aboriginal businesses conducted by Statistics Canada and Aboriginal Business Canada in 2002, CCAB embarked upon the 2011 Aboriginal Business Survey (ABS) to close this knowledge gap, and contribute to the understanding of the opportunities and challenges faced by Aboriginal businesses. The report is a timely exploration — based on telephone interviews with 1,095 First Nations, Métis and Inuit small business owners (defined as those with 100 employees or less) — of their goals and strategies, and the key factors that contribute to their growth. CERIC provided support for this research.

Key Findings

  • The number of Aboriginal business owners and entrepreneurs is growing at a rate that far exceeds that of self-employed Canadians overall.
  • Aboriginal businesses are diverse, and are not limited to any one region, industry sector or market.
  • Aboriginal small business owners are succeeding, in terms of profitability and growth but also in ways that go beyond the bottom line.
  • Successful Aboriginal small businesses are distinguished by their use of annual business plans and innovation.
  • Aboriginal small businesses create jobs for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people alike.
  • Aboriginal entrepreneurs rely primarily on their own resources for both start-up and ongoing financing, and access to financing is considered one obstacle to growth.
  • Despite the challenges of small business ownership, there is widespread confidence about the future.

Report Recommendations

The report contains broad recommendations for the consideration of financial institutions, government, Aboriginal entrepreneurs and organizations with the interest and capacity to work with Aboriginal businesses in order for more Aboriginal businesses to achieve success.

  • Improve access to capital for Aboriginal businesses
  • The creation of provincial and municipal Aboriginal procurement strategies
  • Business planning by Aboriginal business owners is a critical success factor
  • Building stronger networks will lead to sharing of expertise and knowledge among and between Aboriginal businesses

“The results of the Aboriginal Business Survey shatter the myth that Aboriginal people are a drain on Canadian taxpayers,” says Clint Davis, CEO of the CCAB. “The majority of Aboriginal businesses are profitable and are experiencing stability or growth. Many Aboriginal businesses are hiring and training other Aboriginal people. Overall Aboriginal business owners see themselves as successful and are positive about the future.”

The Aboriginal Business Survey was made possible through the support of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, IBM Canada Ltd., RBC Royal Bank and CERIC. CCAB also recognizes the support of First Air.

The full report is available on the CERIC web site. Go to

Bringing an extensive background in non-profit marketing and communications from HR and purchasing associations, Sharon Ferriss is CERIC’s new Director of Marketing, Web and New Media.

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