Growing up in my household there was always chatter regarding a family member planning to start a business. Albeit, the discussion usually revolved around how courageous, but crazy they were to take such a big risk, but that never seemed to stop the startup trend. Everything from restaurants to spas to real estate agencies – you name it, and someone in my family has probably attempted to start it. While some businesses were more successful than others, there was definitely an entrepreneurial spirit in my family, and the many other immigrant families I grew up around. Remarkably it was usually the women who would take the risk of turning their “side hustle” to a full-fledged business.


In a study done by the Kauffman Index on Entrepreneurial Activity on the economic impact of immigrant entrepreneurs, they found that from 1996 to 2012 immigrants were ahead of native born entrepreneurs in entrepreneurial activity.[1] In 2012, immigrants were almost twice as likely to start a business as native born entrepreneurs.[2]  And there has been tremendous growth: in 1996 immigrants only made up 13.7 percent of entrepreneurs, in 2012 they compromised a whopping 27.1 percent of America’s entrepreneurial population. This is no surprise considering that for most immigrants the pursuit of the American Dream and entrepreneurship are two ideas that are tightly interwoven.

Surprisingly, this is a phenomenon that has gone relatively unnoticed by the general population until recently. A self- employed immigrant might produce images of small shop owners, but in actuality immigrants participate in almost every industry. To put these numbers into perspective – immigrants are an extremely important sector of our economy, from 2006 to 2012 about one quarter of the engineering and technology companies had at least one key founder that was an immigrant- 43.9 percent in Silicon Valley.[3] These firms employ about 560,000 workers and have amassed $63 billion in sales in 2012. In fact, in 2010 an immigrant or a first generation entrepreneur started 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies.[4] Looking at the statistics, the economic impact that this group has made to our country is undeniable.

Within this category women represent 40 percent of all self-employed immigrants.  A George Mason study uncovered that the number of self-employed immigrant women has skyrocketed from just 180,000 in 1980 to 1.3 million entrepreneurs today.[5] Currently 13 percent of all women owned firms are controlled by women who are born outside of the United States. With consideration to these statistics, it is no wonder that on the Forbes list of the 50 Richest Self Made Women; about 30 percent of the women on the list were foreign born. [6][7] Some of the most well-known companies – such as the popular teen clothing brand Forever 21 and the hugely successful IT Company Syntel – are immigrant women founded.[8] Other women on the list of immigrant entrepreneurs includes amazingly successful and influential women like; Diane Von Furstenberg, Kit Crawford, and Thai Lee.

The stories of these women are astounding due to the many unimaginable trials they faced when starting out. Immigrant women encounter the same obstacles of native born women when trying to start a business, with the additional challenge of being an immigrant. Immigrant women must overcome the same issues of access to capital and gender bias within certain industries that native born women face. According to one immigrant woman entrepreneurs, “unlike native born entrepreneurs, they frequently can’t turn to their networks for a ‘friends and family’ first round; they often can’t find a co-signers on a micro loan.”[9]  Language and cultural barriers can even further exasperate the difficulties of learning the financial rules and regulations when trying to start a business in another country.

Immigrant women entrepreneurs are an important and growing part of our economy. But despite the growth and success s- they are still in need of support. There is no denying the entrepreneurial energy that immigrant communities possess, but now is the time to develop and capitalize on the potential and innovation of the women within these groups. Whether it is through special access to capital initiatives or greater educational programming, any help will have major economic returns.


[1] Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity by Nativity (1996–2012).

[2] Ibid,.

[3] “Then and Now : America New Immigrant Entrepreneurs.”  Kauffman Foundation.…


[5] “The Economic Case for Welcoming New Immigrant entrepreneurs.” Kauffman Foundation.…

[6] “Self Made Women.”  Forbes.

[7]…. Accessed July 28, 2015.

[8] Ibid.,

[9] “Why an Immigrant Woman Could Be Your Next Boss.” Huffington Post. Last Modified  March 22, 2013.… Accessed July 29, 2015.