National Entrepreneurship Month is a perfect time to celebrate the immigrant innovators who have always played a major role in growing the American economy - from the Russian-born Sergey Brin (founder of technology giant Google in a California garage) to the Spanish-born Prudencio and Carolina Unanue (founders of Goya, the largest Hispanic-owned food company in the US).
When I attended business school a few years ago, over 35% of my classmates were international. Many of us were back in graduate school with a goal of pursuing entrepreneurship. Not only were my international classmates coming to the U.S. because they knew we offered the best graduate school education, many also had dreams of starting a company in the U.S.
Today, many are doing just that.
Hamdi Ulukaya, founder of Agro Farma, Inc. and producer of Chobani yogurt – now a $700 million business – is one success story and example of an SBA loan recipient. With an SBA 504 loan, Hamdi was able to purchase a Kraft Foods plant in August 2005 and by 2007 he had shipped his first order of Chobani yogurt. Less than four years later, Agro Farma has grown to 670 employees running three full-time shifts and producing 1.2 million cases of Chobani weekly.
Hamdi’s story is like many others. From Austin to Boston, immigrants are overcoming barriers in order to stay here and create good jobs across industry sectors and across geographies.
An SBA Office of Advocacy report from November 2008 cites that immigrants made up 12.2 percent of the total U.S. workforce and owned 10.8 percent of all businesses with employees. The total business income generated by immigrant business owners was $67 billion, representing 11.6 percent of all business income in the United States. Also, immigrants are nearly 30 percent more likely to start a business than are non-immigrants.
As part of the White House Startup America initiative, the Obama Administration has taken action to reduce barriers facing immigrant entrepreneurs, from allowing more talented science and math graduates to stay in the country longer to making it easier to start a company in the U.S. Just last month, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced a new “Entrepreneurs in Residence” initiative that will draw on the skills of business experts to fully realize the job-creating potential of current immigration law in order to strengthen USCIS policies and practices surrounding immigrant investors and entrepreneurs.
That’s because we need more stories of risk-takers like Hamdi Ulukaya. I know that there are international students – and immigrants throughout the U.S. – who are ready to follow in their footsteps. Let’s continue to take the steps to support all entrepreneurs who want to build a business and create good American jobs.
Ellen Kim is a Senior Advisor in the Office of Investment and Innovation at the U.S. Small Business Administration.