Entrepreneurship among First Nations Women in the Atlantic Region

Although there have been advances in better understanding the scope and nature of Aboriginal entrepreneurship, including its contribution to job creation on a national level, the existing literature is silent on the growing number of female Aboriginal business owners. In aiming to address this void in our understanding, this project studied the nature and scope of entrepreneurship among Aboriginal women in the Atlantic region. The knowledge gained provides an initial foundation for effectively developing policies and programs to encourage entrepreneurship among Aboriginal women.

Comprised of two phases, the first phase of this research project consisted of an on-line survey that was designed to establish baseline information regarding the interest, prevalence and influences on entrepreneurship among Aboriginal women throughout the region, both on-reserve
and off-reserve. In the second phase of the project, case studies were conducted in four Aboriginal communities of different sizes and different locales to more fully understand how women view the issues, opportunities and challenges of becoming and being an entrepreneur.

Altogether, these case studies involved interviews with 39 entrepreneurs and focus group discussions with 40 non-entrepreneurs. In keeping with the project’s objective of building Indigenous research capacity, Aboriginal women were recruited and selected to join the project team as Research Associate Interns (RAs). Working in pairs, they conducted and managed all aspects of the case studies and were key contributors to other facets of the project.

Findings from the survey indicated that 76 (32.9%) of the 231 survey participants currently own a business. Of the 155 women who presently do not own a business, 40 (26%) are currently trying to start a business, 30 (19%) had previously tried to do so, 18 (12%) were previous business owners and 79 (51%) report no involvement in entrepreneurial activity.
Among the current businesses there was a noted concentration in the craft sector. In terms of size, 88% would be considered microbusinesses, which is comparable to female-owned small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) generally, where 85% are reported to be microbusinesses.

As far as legal structure is concerned, the vast majority of businesses are sole proprietorships (83.9%). Among these sole proprietorships, 74% are located on-reserve with most (86%) operated from home. Amidst limited resources and little assistance from formal support providers, these women have relied on personal savings to establish successful businesses that
draw customers locally, regionally and nationally. Collectively, they are responsible for 75 private sector jobs, with 88% of employees being Aboriginal. When the jobs these women created for themselves are added to the mix, the outcome – 151 jobs – is significant in its contribution to the economy. In comparing the personal attributes of entrepreneurs and non-entrepreneurs the findings revealed no significant differences in age, education or risk preference (both groups were risk averse). However, there was one significant difference and that related to problem-solving style with entrepreneurs tending to rely on intuition while non-entrepreneurs reported using a more calculating analytic approach.

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