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An Inspiring & Timely Panel Discussion: Highlighting Immigrant Entrepreneurship

by Yanki Tshering

On December 4th, BCNA was pleased to present an important and timely panel discussion – “Grit, Wits, and Good Old American Values: Refugee and Immigrant Owned Businesses Revitalizing American Communities” led by noted TED Talks Fellow and first-generation Ghanaian-American Michael Rain, creator of The ENODI Project.

The well-attended event, which was co-hosted by Kwame Marfo, BCNA Board Member and Co-Founder & Managing Partner at the Africa Empowerment Fund, and Dave Sidhu, Project & Acquisition Finance Analyst at Santander Bank and a member of BCNA’s Finance Committee, was presented in partnership with Impact Capital Forum (formerly the Microfinance Club of New York.)

While it has been well documented that immigrants contribute disproportionately to entrepreneurship in the U.S., where they represent 27.5% of all entrepreneurs but only 13% of the population, the contribution of immigrants, refugees, and asylees in creating businesses and jobs – and revitalizing American communities – often goes unnoticed.

In fact, immigrants aren’t just creating more businesses; they’re creating more successful ones. A Harvard Business School study has shown that immigrant-founded companies perform better in terms of employment growth, grow at a faster rate, and are more likely to survive long term than native-led companies are.

This event was not only an opportunity for us to highlight some of ways that BCNA supports immigrant and refugee entrepreneurs, but more importantly to celebrate the hard work and sheer grit it took for our client panelists to establish their flourishing micro and small businesses.

In addition to moderator Michael Rain, panelists included Rahim Diallo, the co-founder of Ginjan Bros, which he and his brother created to develop and market African-inspired foods and beverages, including those from their native Guinea; as well as BCNA clients Mariemeta Keita, who came to the US from the Ivory Coast in 1992 and who now owns and operates Keita West African Market in Brooklyn; Shah Yafi, who used his BCNA loan to open Food Cave, a deli in Long Island City, which is now up to eight employees; Archana Pokhrel, who immigrated from Nepal and is now the owner of a brand new day spa, Lenox Spa and Nails, which boasts 11 employees; Husen Yavuz, who came to the US from Turkey and is the co-owner of Verde Café and Lounge, an Northern Italian restaurant in Brooklyn; and Abdoulaye Bagayogo, who has been a yellow cab driver since 1990 and used his BCNA loan to refinance and significantly reduce by $500,000 the bank loan he took out initially for his taxi medallion, a reduction that has been life changing.

Panelists discussed such diverse topics as how small businesses cope with unexpected – and often arbitrary – health department fines, like the $600 Shah Yafi had to pay because he was in violation of a new regulation requiring a door stop for the bathroom; to Archana Pokhrel noting how important it is for small business owners to push themselves to be more social and use every opportunity to promote their businesses locally; to Rahim Diallo’s observation that cultural differences can sometimes provide an advantage in perspective and allow you to see gaps in the market, such as the under-representation of African fare in mainstream markets.

We were excited by the inpiring energy in the room as well as all the positive comments we received from attendees asking us to have other events like it in the future. Definitely on the agenda and thanks to everyone who made it an electric and informative evening!