Valuing immigrants as entrepreneurs

New immigrant and refugee families are becoming a more prominent part of the fabric of our country’s society and economy. These individuals face great struggle and barriers upon their arrival to the United States and are forced to adapt to a culture that is completely foreign to them. One way that these individuals have historically been able to succeed and move forward is through entrepreneurship. These new entrepreneurs are finding the benefits of driving their own careers through self-determination and ingenuity. The only problem is that to get to that point, they face many obstacles because of their backgrounds. Fortunately there are several local business incubator programs that assist these entrepreneurs in their endeavors.

A recent report by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor found that first-generation immigrants are starting their own businesses at almost twice the rate of their second-generation counterparts and at a 27 percent higher rate than non-immigrant Americans. It is clear that immigrant entrepreneurs are very important contributors to the development of our economy and future. California leads the country in immigrant entrepreneurship. According to the Fiscal Policy Institute, a New York-based think tank, about one-third of California’s small businesses are owned by immigrants.

A local non-profit, AnewAmerica, offers the most expansive program in the nation that provides immigrants, recent refugees, and new citizens with support in starting their own businesses. The 3-year long program involves customized business training and coaching, certification in business planning, business development support, access to credit, and social responsibility education. These new American entrepreneurs also find encouragement for integration in social, cultural and political life in the United States and envision new future possibilities in this country. “We salute our entrepreneurs’ success in launching and expanding their businesses. They are creating jobs, building assets, growing green microenterprises and promoting economic prosperity,” states AnewAmerica CEO, Viola Gonzales.

Since 1999, AnewAmerica has successfully established 453 self-sustainable businesses and helped expand 130 more in the Bay Area. They are currently forming their 70th group of entrepreneurs for this upcoming fall.

One of their clients, Betty Bedregal, joined the program in 2012. Betty immigrated to the U.S. from Peru to find better and safer opportunities for her family.  She and her family opened Betty’s Butterflies Day Care, a bilingual, multicultural, and green day care in Mountain View. Through her daycare business, Betty implemented two innovative programs – AnewAmerica’s Healthy Roots and Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!” programs. With the AnewAmerica Healthy Roots Program, children learn and become aware of the importance of organic, sustainable, and edible gardening, and balanced nutrition. With Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!” program, Betty’s Day care coordinates activities including neighborhood walks, holiday events, and nutritious family potlucks to invite families from their community to be healthy together.

In October 2012, Betty was recognized as a Top 7 Business Model Finalist in the Santa Clara County StartUp Cup Business Model Competition. In May 2013, she received a public nomination and was invited to attend as an audience member for the Champions of Change Ceremony for Immigrant Entrepreneurs and Innovators at the White House.

Betty is committed to helping families in her community live happy and healthy lives. She is a role model and inspiration to other aspiring entrepreneurs. Betty will be awarded with the Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year Award at AnewAmerica’s upcoming annual Microbusiness Expo on August 29th at the Kaiser Center Rooftop Garden. If it weren’t for the work of AnewAmerica and similar organizations, ambitious Americans like Betty would not be able to pursue their dreams of owning their own businesses. We need to express our support to these organizations to our government officials.


Jose Antonio Flores is the founder of M.E.N.D. at UC Berkeley and graduate of the Class of 2013.