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.


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.

2019 Winners from left: High Tech Business, Larry Kim, founder of MobileMonkey; Neighborhood Business Yessy Feliz, founder of Tails; Business Growth, Joseph Ngaruiya, founder of A Better Life Homecare; Life Science Business, Bernat Olle, founder of Vedanta Biosciences


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 Entrepreneur Hall of Fame

Here is a tribute to 71 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

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.

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 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.


Immigrants as Economic Contributors: Immigrant Entrepreneurs

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.


Immigrant Founders of the 2017 Fortune 500

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.


One Cost of Cutting Back on Less-Skilled Immigration: Potential Business Creation

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% of immigrants without college degrees, 10.6% of immigrants with college degrees, 8.9% of U.S.-born are self-employed.


From Struggle to Resilience: The Economic Impact of Refugees in America

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.


The 2017 Kauffman Index of Startup Activity

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.


Immigrants Play a Disproportionate Role in American Entrepreneurship

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.


Kauffman Compilation: Research on Immigration and Entrepreneurship

Kaufman Foundation, October 2016

The Kauffman Foundation has long championed immigrant entrepreneurs and their positive impact on the American economy. This compilation highlights a range of Kauffman resources that discuss the contributions of immigrant entrepreneurs and the policy ideas that could further those contributions.


The Arrival of the Immigrant Entrepreneur

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 Entrepreneurship

Harvard Business School, June 2016

This study comparing immigrant-founded businesses to native-founded ones showed that immigrant-founded companies perform better in terms of employment growth over three- and six-year time horizons. The authors of the study, William R. Kerr and Sari Pekkala Kerr, conclude that immigrant-led companies grow at a faster rate and are more likely to survive long term than native-led companies are.


Entrepreneurship and Innovation in Welcoming Cities: Lessons from Chicago, Dayton, and Nashville

American Immigration Council, February 2016

The efforts of three geographically diverse cities that have created more welcoming environments for immigrants and implemented initiatives that promote immigrant entrepreneurship and innovation in their communities, are detailed in this report.

Resources for Immigrant Entrepreneurs


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.



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

Resources About Immigrant Entrepreneurs

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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