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Enterprising immigrants: stories from the first BBB virtual International Entrepreneurs Summit

A study released in 2019 affirmed what so many already know: America, as we know it today, was built by immigrants. According to the study, conducted by The New American Economy Research Fund, nearly 50% of Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or their children.

That statistic, and so many others, reinforce the importance of supporting immigrants and refugees in business. At Better Business Bureau, our colleagues from the Pacific Southwest hosted the International Entrepreneur Summit last week. The summit, put on in conjunction with the International Rescue Committee (a BBB Accredited Charity) and Go Daddy, featured inspiring speeches from immigrant entrepreneurs, branding gurus, IRC staff, and others.

Mike Jones, CEO of the Phoenix-based branding company Resound, kicked off the summit by reminding the virtual audience that entrepreneurs are not merely the stereotypical budding tech genius with Silicon Valley connections. The definition of entrepreneur, Jones explained, is “one who undertakes.” That means that anyone exercising ingenuity, grit, resourcefulness, determination, and creativity fit the bill.

“You don’t have to have some VC backed company,” Jones said. “Let’s stop being afraid of the ‘e word’. Own it, embrace it, love it.”

Jones also posited that working together benefits everyone.

“Support, grow, love, and connect with other entrepreneurs,” Jones advised. “Entrepreneurs have the opportunity to learn from others. This rising tide lifts all of our boats. Business is not a zero-sum game.”

After Jones’ speech, Diana Muturia offered an inspiring keynote address. Muturia is a Kenyan immigrant who first came to America at age 18 to study mechanical engineering in college. Muturia dropped out of college her senior year “because of money,” she recalls. She moved to Arizona and “fell into a depression,” Muturia says. As the first-generation immigrant in her family to make it to America, Muturia felt she left must thrive in the United States. To make ends meet in Arizona, Muturia started cleaning houses, often alongside other immigrants. Soon, Muturia formulated an idea; she would create an app called Clyn. This app would connect households with someone to clean their home. Creating this app filled a logistical need, a matchmaking service for cleaners and clients. But Muturia started her entrepreneurial journey for another reason.

“We’re making sure these cleaners are seen in the light of heroes,” she explains. “Because they are heroes.”

When a family or individual gets help cleaning their home, they’re able to focus on other things. That free time and sparkling space is made possible by hardworking cleaners, the heroes Muturia is amplifying with Clyn.

Muturia acknowledged the help she’s received from many along the way. When she didn’t know something, Muturia would look for mentors to guide her.

“You’re not an island,” she says. “You do need help. Make sure you’re aligned with people who are in that industry (where you need help) so you can do better in that economy.”

Her persistence, the strong backbone she got from her family, and the ingenuity she learned as an immigrant in a new country, all add up to a powerful entrepreneurial success story.   

“You’ll fail,” Muturia says. “You’ll fail so many times. But I promise you, those failures are taking you where you need to be. Clyn has had ups and downs for four years. To have a really valuable business, it will take a few years. Please don’t give up. It’s the process. It’s the learning curve.”

Danielle Luna from the IRC spoke next about the nonprofit’s Microenterprise Program. The program connects entrepreneurs to community resources including sector specific business trainings, marketing, workshops, and events. Additionally, the IRC helps its clients access capital to build their business.

Following Luna, industry experts offered tips on setting up a website, e-commerce and social media mastery. The virtual summit offered a mix of inspirational and hard skills – foundational pieces to entrepreneurship.

The team from BBB Pacific Southwest are incredibly proud of the summit’s turnout.

“Our BBB is committed to serving diverse entrepreneurs from all walks of life and we know refugee and international entrepreneurs play a key role in our business community,” BBB organizers Luke Amargo and Rosie Carrillo say. “GoDaddy has been a BBB Accredited Business in the Pacific Southwest for over 20 years, and their leadership during this time has not gone unnoticed as they supported this inaugural virtual summit. During COVID-19 it is important for businesses to be armed with ecommerce, social media and website training so they can sustain their operations. We are proud of this incredible partnership with IRC and GoDaddy and their movement to make a difference for these ‘New Americans.’ We look forward to growing this program for years to come.”

Though the International Entrepreneur Summit was only 3 hours long, 115 people attended event. At Better Business Bureau, we hope this will be but one of many summits that brings value to our immigrant, refugee, and minority entrepreneurs. For more inspiring events, visit events.bbbcommunity.org. For business insights and inspiration, visit trust-bbb.org.  

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Written by Hannah Stiff

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