Immigrant Entrepreneurs

America is world-renowned for its entrepreneurial business spirit, and this spirit is fueled in large part by immigrants. In every economic census since 1880, immigrants are more likely to be self-employed than the native-born population. While some of these immigrant entrepreneurs were highly educated, many were not. In fact, the only characteristics they share are the courage to leave their home countries and the drive and determination to start a new life in the United States.


43%
of Fortune 500 companies were founded by first or second generation immigrants.

43%

28%
of Main Street businesses were founded by immigrants.

One in four


43%
of Fortune 500 companies were founded by first or second generation immigrants.

43%


28%
of Main Street businesses were founded by immigrants.
One in four

Immigrant Entrepreneur Hall of Fame

Here is a tribute to 75 immigrant entrepreneurs who founded some of today’s most influential brands, midsize businesses that are the engines of regional economies and not-for-profits that enhance the lives of many Americans.

Immigrant Entrepreneurs in the News

San Jose native opens doors for immigrant entrepreneurs

June 28, 2022

Yacanex Posadas founded a business to help immigrant entrepreneurs navigate owning their own small businesses, generating revenue and jobs in the process.

What My Immigrant Parents Taught Me About The American Dream

June 8, 2022

Thomson Nguyen watched his Vietnamese American parents chase their American Dream through entrepreneurship and has advice on how others can do the same.

Chi’Lantro CEO hopes to inspire other immigrant entrepreneurs

May 20, 2022

Korean American entrepreneur Jae Kim built his thriving restaurant from a tiny food truck. He wants to inspire business owners who also grew up under difficult circumstances.

My family used to skip meals – I launched a SNAP app to help claimants track food stamps and get extra discounts

April 25, 2022

Motivated by his memories of food insecurity as a child, immigrant entrepreneur Jimmy Chen created an app to help people like his Chinese American parents obtain government benefits.

The 4 Most Valuable US Unicorns Have Immigrant CEOs. So Do 4 Of The 7 Top Public Companies

February 15, 2022

All of the four most valuable private, venture-backed U.S. companies now have immigrant founders and CEOs, and in the public markets, four of the seven most valuable U.S. companies are now headed by immigrants.

Meet the Dominican Sisters Making Curl Care Clean, Affordable and Effective

January 19, 2022

Dominican American siblings Cory Dahlia and Nicol Varona started DNOrganics to help Latinx people embrace “healthy curls.”

Immigrant Business Owners Are the Key to Supercharging America’s Economy

January 12, 2022

Foreign-born entrepreneurs are crucial to a robust economy, but immigration policies stand in the way.

Jubilee Hall: An immigrant’s vision to give back to Portland

November 18, 2021

Immigrant entrepreneur Khupsamlian Khaute is starting a not-for-profit to give newcomers valuable work skills and help them learn English.

Immigrant Entrepreneur Interviews


Immigrant entrepreneurs bring with them a determination and creativity that reinvigorate declining communities, create jobs for Americans and keep the U.S. on the cutting edge of innovation. While much is heard of immigrant businesses, The ILC Public Education Institute gives voice to the entrepreneurs and innovators who help to strengthen America’s economy like immigrants before them.

The ILC’s immigrant entrepreneur video series features immigrant entrepreneurs from around the world and from many sectors of the economy. Watch them here. The ILC has also partnered with Pioneer Institute to create a podcast to feature full-length interviews with immigrant entrepreneurs. Explore them here.

Research on Immigrant Entrepreneurs

Research on immigrant entrepreneurs consistently shows tremendous economic benefits across the country and across the economic spectrum. Here is a sample of some of the most recent and compelling studies.

Immigrant Entrepreneurship: Economic Potential and Obstacles to Success

Bipartisan Policy Center, June 2022

Immigrants are 10 percent more likely to own their own business than U.S.-born people and found approximately 25 percent of all new businesses.

 

New American Fortune 500 in 2022: The Largest American Companies and Their Immigrant Roots

American Immigration Council, June 2022

43.8 percent of 2022 Fortune 500 companies were founded or co-founded by immigrants.

 

Immigration and Entrepreneurship in the United States

American Economic Association, March 2022

Immigrants act as “job creators” and play outsized roles in U.S. high-growth entrepreneurship by starting new firms and expanding labor demand.

 

Immigration and Entrepreneurship in the United States

American Economic Association, March 2022

Immigrants act as “job creators” and play outsized roles in U.S. high-growth entrepreneurship by starting new firms and expanding labor demand.

 

New American Fortune 500 in 2021: Top American Companies and Their Immigrant Roots

New American Economy, June 2021

On average, New American Economy has found that more than two out of every five Fortune 500 companies had at least one immigrant or child-of-immigrant founder. In 2021, they found that 44 percent of Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or their children.

 

The Megaphone of Main Street: Unsung Entrepreneurs

Score, May 2021

One in five entrepreneurs in the United States is a first-generation immigrant. This report also found that immigrant entrepreneurs are more likely to hire employees, even in times of financial hardship.

 

Getting Schooled: The Role of Universities in Attracting Immigrant Entrepreneurs

National Bureau of Economic Research, May 2021

International students are key drivers of economic growth. This working paper found that immigrants have founded or co-founded more than 20 percent of venture capital-backed startups over the past 30 years. Most of these founders immigrated in pursuit of a better education.

 

Are voluntary international migrants self-selected for entrepreneurship?

Journal of World Business, February 2021

This study of more than 1,000 students found that immigrants have a higher than average tolerance for risk, which makes them more likely to create businesses and jobs.

 

Immigration Policy Levers for U.S. Innovation and Startups

Harvard Business School, September 2020

This report analyzes the benefits and accomplishments of immigrant entrepreneurs and outlines methods for policymakers to encourage immigrant entrepreneurship.

 

Immigration and Entrepreneurship in the United States

National Bureau of Economic Research, September 2020

This study discovered that immigrant-owned firms create 42 percent more jobs than firms started by U.S.-born entrepreneurs.

 

Immigrant Entrepreneurs and Innovation in the U.S. High-Tech Sector

IZA Institute of Labor Economics, February 2019

This study discovered that immigrant-owned firms in the high-tech sector are consistently more innovative across a range of metrics than firms without an immigrant owner.

 

Immigrants and Billion-Dollar Companies

National Foundation for American Policy, October 2018

This research found that immigrants have started more than 55 percent of America’s startup companies valued at $1 billion or more and are key members of management or product development teams in more than 80 percent of these companies.

Immigrant Entrepreneur Awards

Barry M. Portnoy Immigrant Entrepreneur Awards Benefit

To call attention to the critical contributions of immigrant entrepreneurs in Massachusetts, The Immigrant Learning Center hosts The Barry M. Portnoy Immigrant Entrepreneur Awards Benefit each fall.

From left to right, Roger Magalhaes, Jitka Borowick, Avak Kahvejian and Ling Chai Maginn
From left to right, Roger Magalhaes, founder of Shades in Place and Trading Up Consulting, Jitka Borowick, founder of Cleangreen and Nove Yoga and Wellness Studio, Avak Kahvejian, partner at Flagship Pioneering, and Ling Chai Maginn, founder of Jenzabar and All Girls Allowed

 

Other Entrepreneur Award Programs

It’s not just Massachusetts. Immigrant entrepreneurs are making a big splash around the world, but there are still very few opportunities to celebrate them.

Resources for Immigrant Entrepreneurs

Financial Resources for Minority Business Owners

This collection of resources includes more than 100 programs, initiatives and grants for minority-owned businesses across the United States.

 

DreamxAmerica

Housed at the Harvard Innovation Labs, DreamxAmerica is a new movement that joins storytelling and impact investing to support immigrant entrepreneurs across America.

 

Global Entrepreneur In Residence

Global EIR partners with universities to connect entrepreneurs with visas and allow them to grow their companies locally through a service commitment to the local community.

 

StreetWise ‘MBA’

This program from Interise provides small business owners with the business knowledge, management know-how and the networks needed to grow established small businesses.

 

Center for Women and Enterprise

Offers training and support for starting and growing businesses in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Vermont.

 

NYC Immigrant Business Initiative

The New York City Department of Small Business Services offers business courses and resources to address specific needs of entrepreneurs in immigrant communities.

 

Legalpad

This organization specializes in helping immigrant founders and start-ups obtain work visas quickly and efficiently.

Resources About Immigrant Entrepreneurs

JobMakers

A podcast produced by The ILC and the Pioneer Institute featuring interviews with immigrant entrepreneurs and leaders who are contributing to their communities

 

Welcoming America Seeds of Growth

A guide to help communities harness the potential of immigrant entrepreneurs to spur economic growth and job creation

 

The Immigrant Entrepreneur

Podcast with interviews of and about immigrant entrepreneurs

 

Breaking the Borders

Podcast and newsletter featuring stories of successful immigrant entrepreneurs

 

Immigrant Entrepreneurs: Changing Cultures & Economies

A newsletter from Nina Roberts about and for immigrant entrepreneurs including stories, tips and information

 

Immigrant Entrepreneurs from the Story Exchange

Videos and profiles of women immigrants who have found economic opportunity through business ownership

 

Immigrant Entrepreneurship: German-American Business Biographies, 1720 to the Present

Website that explores the entrepreneurial and economic capacity of immigrants by investigating the German-American example in the United States

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