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Indigenous SMEs are exporting more than ever

Indigenous entrepreneurship is growing as they accounted for 2.5 percent of all Canadian entrepreneurs in 2016, up from 2.2 percent in 2011.1 Nearly 1 in 4 Indigenous‑owned small and medium enterprises (SMEs) export according to the data of the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business (CCAB) compared to 11.8 percent overall for the Canadian SMEs. Figure 1 presents the breakdown of the sales’ destinations of Indigenous SMEs.

Based on the CCAB survey results, Indigenous SMEs demonstrate a strong ability to access broader markets. Given the fact that Indigenous communities are typically no larger than 1,000 individuals,2 it is suspected that Indigenous business strategies may, of necessity, include reaching non‑local markets at an early stage. Approximately 21.5 percent of Indigenous SMEs reach the U.S. market, which is twice the rate as Canadian SMEs (10.5 percent3), and 14.8 percent of Indigenous SMEs export to overseas international markets compared to 4.9 percent4 for the general population of SMEs.

The Upshot

Despite facing additional challenges to achieve business growth, including geographic remoteness, small local markets and constraints on financing, a significant number of Indigenous SME owners have found ways to circumvent obstacles, such as by using social media tools, in order to reach larger markets.

For additional information, consult the report Indigenous‑owned Exporting SMEs in Canada.


1 Statistics Canada, Aboriginal Population Profile, 2016; NHS Aboriginal Population Profile, Canada, 2011 and NHS Profile, Canada, 2011. Entrepreneurs are defined as self‑employed individuals.

2 Harvey A. Mccue, The Canadian Encyclopedia, Reserves, accessed 10 June 2019.

3 Statistics Canada, Survey on Financing and Growth of SMEs, 2014

4 Calculation based on the percentage of overseas exporters from Statistics Canada, Table 12‑10‑0096‑01: Trade in goods by exporter characteristics, by enterprise employment size and region type, accessed 10 June 2019; and the percentage of SME exporters from Statistics Canada, Survey on Financing and Growth of SMEs, 2014.

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