Immigration is a major headline these days, but it may be for all the wrong reasons. According to a 2015 study from the Kauffman Foundation, new Americans are twice as likely as native-born citizens to start businesses. Another study shows they make up about 28 percent of "main street" businesses, such as retail, accommodation, and food services.
It's hard to argue against facts. Immigrant business owners contribute to the US economy in a big way. Here are three stories to put some faces to the numbers.
Please note: We usually focus on a single business for our Small Business Spotlights. However, immigrants are a diverse group, so we felt it appropriate to share multiple stories.
William Gadea, IdeaRocket
"Immigration replenishes our bloodstream with the true American essence. When we shut it out, we lose who we are."
In 2006, William Gadea, founder and creative director of the animation studio IdeaRocket (@IdeaRocket321), was working as a freelance animator when he saw some early YouTube videos. His first thought? "I can do better than that!"
From there, Gadea says one thing led to another. He started developing marketing channels and a community of collaborators, and his business began to grow. Today, he employs five people and about a half-dozen freelancers, has over $1 million in revenue, and has worked with more than 20 Fortune 500 companies.
Gadea says his experience was probably easier than typical immigrants' because he came to the United States for college. However, he understands what it takes to change countries because he and his parents moved from Peru to Australia.
"Imagine what it's like moving to a new country," he says. "You need to find a new home, a new job, new friends, all while learning a strange culture and potentially a different language."
He thinks it's that kind of courage that drives so many new Americans to open businesses.
"Entrepreneurs are ambitious risk-takers with a desire to improve their lot," says Gadea. "Those are the exact qualities immigrants need to make the decision to immigrate."
Gadea thinks this is important to remember when discussions about immigration come up. He argues that America can claim exceptionalism because most of our people "came from stock that made a long trip across a wide ocean."
"People sometimes fear that immigration will dilute who we are," he says. "The opposite is the case: immigration replenishes our bloodstream with the true American essence. When we shut it out, we lose who we are."
Amar Trivedi, AmDee
"One small project and a big dream."
Amar Trivedi, president and founder of web design firm AmDee (@AmDeeLLC), didn't have plans to start a business when he came to the United States from India, but fate got in the way. An organization he consulted in the past offered him a project. As Trivedi says, he started his company with "one small project and a big dream."
But that doesn't mean his path to success was easy.
"While the project was going on, I realized my sales pipeline was completely empty," says Trivedi. "I had no experience in sales and didn't even know how to approach the sales aspect."
Over time, Trivedi built a network of people who trust him and send him referrals. Now he has enough work to employ eight individuals. Plus, he supports other entrepreneurs whenever he can.
"We have worked with local small businesses and make it a point to outsource some of our needs (accounting, bookkeeping, recruiting, etc.) to local businesses," says Trivedi.
For tips on building up your referrals, check out "The 7 Best Small Business Groups for Networking."
The Benezra Family, North Shore Kosher Bakery
"When you have it hard from youth, that's who you are. You just keep having to bust through walls."
The story of Michael Benezra, owner of the North Shore Kosher Bakery, is different from the first two. As his daughter Ayellet Benezra, the operations manager and "face of the family business," explains, financial hardships made the decision to immigrate easy.
"Inflation in Israel was making it harder and harder to sustain a family of five, which included three children under the age of eight," says Ayellet Benezra. "Dad immigrated in 1980 to see if he could lay the groundwork to start a new life in Chicago."
But her father's struggles started much earlier than that. When he was 11, his family was arrested in Morocco for assisting Jewish families. They were deported and spent a number of months relocating.
"That was his childhood," says Ayellet Benezra. "Traveling in trucks, living in tiny apartments, not always living together. It was a miserable beginning."
From there, the elder Benezra took work where he could get it. He landed in a bakery where he learned the business and eventually opened one of his own.
Ayellet Benezra says rough starts like her father's is one reason immigrants often succeed in America.
"When you have it hard from youth, that's who you are," she says. "You just keep having to bust through walls."
That's why she sees views her role in the family bakery with pride.
"I look up to every single person who is an immigrant who has a business, and I think how proud I am that they can do it," says Benezra. "I’m honored to be even remotely associated in that circle."
You can learn a lot from the people who have been there before. Get more business tips in our Small Business Spotlight series.
About the Contributors
William Gadea is the founder and creative director of IdeaRocket. He was born in Peru and lived in Australia and the Dominican Republic before immigrating to the United States to study film at New York University. Before founding IdeaRocket, he was a playwright and an animator working in children’s television. His studio makes videos for business in various techniques: whiteboard animation, 2D animation, and 3D animation.
Prior to founding AmDee in 2009, Amar Trivedi worked for non-profit, government, and for-profit clients as a software developer and architect. Even though Trivedi’s formal education is in civil and environmental engineering, he has always enjoyed coming up with technology solutions for real-life business challenges. He is always focused on creating a solution that best fits the client’s needs and budget. He firmly believes that market creates the best solution for any size of problem.
Michael Benezra brought his baking savvy to Chicago all the way from Israel in 1980. He and his wife Tehiya took over North Shore Kosher Bakery from the previous owner in 1987, and it quickly became the place to go in the community for authentic and freshly made baked goods. They emphasize traditional Jewish style breads, pastries, cookies, and custom-decorated cakes, and encourage their customers to share new ideas and designs. Check them out on Facebook and Instagram.