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 Hall of Fame

Here is a tribute to 74 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

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.

Built by a refugee, Enlight’s edtech tool bets it can help students hope harder

September 21, 2021

Refugee entrepreneur Dieumerci Christel has created an online platform to help teachers better connect with and understand their students.

Immigrants are more likely to become entrepreneurs – why?

August 17, 2021

Immigrants have a higher than average tolerance for risk, which leads to higher than average rates of entrepreneurship.

Meet The Immigrant Entrepreneurs Who Raised $350 Million To Rethink U.S. Primary Care

July 21, 2021

Turkish American Eren Bali and Iranian American Caesar Djavaherian are making the United States health care system more efficient and cheaper with their new startup Carbon Health.

Meet The Young Latina Immigrant Behind Boston’s First Zero-Waste Store

June 30, 2021

Colombian American Maria Vasco has opened a small business to fight plastic waste. She’s employing other young women of color and aspiring entrepreneurs in the process.

Sri Lankan Immigrant Entrepreneurs Bring Taste of Home to NYC’s Staten Island

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.

Immigrant Entrepreneur-led United People Apparel Opens at Mall of America

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.

Manan Mehta: Opening Doors for Immigrant Entrepreneurs

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.

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.

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.


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 percent of immigrants without college degrees, 10.6 percent of immigrants with college degrees, 8.9 percent 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.

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.

Resources for Immigrant Entrepreneurs

Financial Resources for Minority Business Owners

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 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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