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.
Here is a tribute to 73 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
May 26, 2021
Sri Lankan immigrants to New York City have opened many popular restaurants and grocery stores in Staten Island’s “Little Sri Lanka.” Many Sri Lankan-American immigrants appreciate having access to the familiar dishes and products of their country of origin.
March 2, 2021
Tani Boateng, originally from Jamaica, and Emmanuel Boateng, originally from Ghana, have a deep appreciation of the imagery of the U.S. as a melting pot, and say they want their brand to capture that American ethos.
January 11, 2021
Manan Mehta, founder of Unshackled Ventures, is investing in immigrant entrepreneurs and helping them tackle the unique obstacles they face. He was inspired after partnering with an immigrant entrepreneur to launch his own startup.
A Conversation on the Importance of Immigration on Entrepreneurship With Ali Noorani, President and CEO of the National Immigration Forum
October 25, 2020
Ali Noorani’s research on immigrant entrepreneurs highlights their value to the economy, particularly while the economy is recovering from a downturn. Businesses owned by immigrants have 8 million employees and produce over a trillion dollars in sales.
September 24, 2020
Spice Bridge is helping build the businesses of female immigrant and refugee entrepreneurs in the food industry. Through their incubator program, Spice Bridge is bringing new foods to the community and financial stability to immigrant families.
August 13, 2020
Eric Yuan had to apply nine times to obtain his visa. Once he made it to the United States, he founded Zoom, a technology that has exploded in use during the COVID-19 pandemic.
June 16, 2020
Immigrant entrepreneur Apoorva Mehta founded Instacart, a service that allows people to quickly and easily have groceries delivered. Many people have begun using Instacart during the COVID-19 pandemic, allowing people to access food safely and creating many new jobs for shoppers.
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.
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.
Harvard Business School, September 2020
This report analyzes the benefits and accomplishments of immigrant entrepreneurs and outlines methods for policymakers to encourage immigrant entrepreneurship.
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.
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.
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.
National Immigration Forum, July 2018
This fact sheet is the fourth of a seven-part series examining the various roles immigrants play in our economy. It highlights research illuminating the role of immigrant entrepreneurs in starting businesses, creating jobs and revitalizing communities.
Center for American Entrepreneurship, December 2017
The Center for American Entrepreneurship has analyzed the 2017 Fortune 500 list and found 43 percent were founded by an immigrant or the child of an immigrant. Further, they discovered that first- or second-generation immigrant founders accounted for 52 percent of the top 25 firms and 57 percent of the top 35 firms.
New American Economy, August 2017
In 2015, there were 2.1 million immigrant entrepreneurs with less than a bachelor’s degree. Their rate of entrepreneurship is actually higher than immigrants with college degrees; 12 percent of immigrants without college degrees, 10.6 percent of immigrants with college degrees, 8.9 percent of U.S.-born are self-employed.
New American Economy, June 2017
Refugees contribute meaningfully to our economy as earners and taxpayers, and have an entrepreneurship rate (13 percent of refugees) that outshines even that of other immigrants (11.5 percent of non-refugee immigrants. Refugees show a particular willingness to make long-term investments in the United States. They found companies, earn citizenship, and buy homes at notably high rates.
Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, May 2017
Immigrants are almost twice as likely as the native-born to become entrepreneurs, with the Rate of New Entrepreneurs being 0.52 percent for immigrants, compared to 0.26 percent for the native-born. The percentage of immigrant entrepreneurs in the United States is on a two-decade high, accounting for almost 30 percent of all new entrepreneurs in the United States, up from 13.3 percent in 1996.
Harvard Business Review, October 2016
This study takes a comprehensive view of U.S. immigrant entrepreneurship data from 1995 to 2008 and analyzes a spectrum of companies from “Main Street” businesses to VC-backed Silicon Valley firms.
U.S. Small Business Administration, October 2016
Over the last 20 years, the role of immigrant entrepreneurs has grown. This report shows that the growth was caused by three changes: an increase in the size of the population born abroad, an increase in self-employment among those born abroad, and a decrease in self-employment overall.
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.
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.
- Immigrant Entrepreneurs Summit, Ankeny, IA
- Immigrant Journey Awards Program, Dallas, TX
- BCNA Immigrant Heritage Week Awards, New York, NY
- Immigrant Entrepreneur Celebration, Pittsburgh, PA
- New Jersey Immigrant Entrepreneur Awards, Princeton, NJ
- Immigrant Entrepreneur Awards, Ottowa, Canada
- Best Immigrant Entrepreneur Award, British Columbia, Canada
- Global Advantage Business Awards, Guelph/Wellington, Canada
- Leeds Grenville Immigrant Entrepreneur Award, Leeds Grenville, Canada
- Smiths Falls Immigrant Entrepreneur Award, Smiths Falls, Canada
- The MoneyGram Award, Italy
Resources for Immigrant Entrepreneurs
This collection of resources includes over 100 programs, initiatives and grants for minority-owned businesses across the United States.
Housed at the Harvard Innovation Labs, DreamxAmerica is a new movement that joins storytelling and impact investing to support immigrant entrepreneurs across America.
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.
This program from Interise provides small business owners with the business knowledge, management know-how, and the networks needed to grow established small businesses.
Offers training and support for starting and growing businesses in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Vermont.
The New York City Department of Small Business Services offers business courses and resources to address specific needs of entrepreneurs in immigrant communities.
This organization specializes in helping immigrant founders and start-ups obtain work visas quickly and efficiently.
Resources About Immigrant Entrepreneurs
A guide to help communities harness the potential of immigrant entrepreneurs to spur economic growth and job creation
Podcast with interviews of and about immigrant entrepreneurs
Podcast and newsletter featuring stories of successful immigrant entrepreneurs
A newsletter from Nina Roberts about and for immigrant entrepreneurs including stories, tips and information
Videos and profiles of women immigrants who have found economic opportunity through business ownership
Website that explores the entrepreneurial and economic capacity of immigrants by investigating the German-American example in the United States