I’m a softie for a few things. Children. Puppies. And immigrant entrepreneurs.
Puppies because their fresh eyes are struck with wonder and awe at what the rest of us ignore as humdrum. Children because their spirits have not yet been crushed by cynicism; they dream of doing fun, marvelous things in a long life of boundless opportunities.
And immigrant entrepreneurs because, well, pretty much because of the same reasons.
Immigrants land on these shores and are thunderstruck by what we native-born Americans dismiss as ordinary. They see so clearly what we’ve stopped seeing.
Take the word “opportunity.” Many Americans are so accustomed to that word that it seems empty. We’re not really sure, even, what it means. Or what it looks like when it smacks you upside the head.
But not immigrants. Their fresh, almost childlike eyes see and recognize the extraordinary opportunities all around. If you take a few moments and read the special report about immigrant entrepreneurs that begins on page 21 in this issue, you’ll see that word – opportunity – pop up again and again. No matter what corner of the globe they came from, no matter their background, no matter their sex or personality type, they see it all over this country. And many take the next step and start a business.
“I was surprised by how easy it was to become successful in America,” said Mercedes Pelegrini, who moved here from Brazil and now owns Vittorio’s Ristorante. “In Brazil, opportunity only comes to the very, very wealthy.”
Nabih Youssef, when asked the best thing about running a business here, said, perhaps not surprisingly, “the open and very rewarding professional opportunities.” But, when asked the worst thing, he said – perhaps surprisingly – all the opportunities. There are so many that it takes time away from family.
“America is a true land of opportunity,” said Najeed Ghauri, who came from Pakistan and now owns NetSol Technologies of Calabasas.
Are there problems for immigrant entrepreneurs? Sure, there are plenty. One noted the language and accent barrier. Another said immigrants can face particular financing problems because few have friends or family here to help them.
But if you assume Los Angeles, or America in general, is hostile to foreign-born entrepreneurs, you’ll have trouble finding much to support that view in this special report.
For example, read what Jacques Nack Ngue from Cameroon said. When asked what surprised him, he cited the random advice and the words of encouragement he got from Americans. “Other people really wanted to help me achieve the American dream. I didn’t expect that,” he said.
Or what Kamran Pourzanjani from Iran said: “America, more than any other society, loves winners and encourages you to succeed.”
I’m a softie for this special report. Reading these accounts is like listening to children. You’ll see what they see through their fresh eyes. Your cynicism will be dampened, and you’ll be reminded of why this is such a special place.
And just in case you’re still skeptical that foreign entrepreneurs can make it here, just go back to the Business Journal’s list of Wealthiest Angelenos in May. Look it over, and you’ll see that several of L.A.’s most successful entrepreneurs are immigrants. Patrick Soon-Shiong is kind of a double immigrant: He moved here from South Africa, where he was born and raised the son of Chinese immigrants.
By the way, you won’t have trouble finding Soon-Shiong on that list. He was No. 1 – which means that by that ranking, at least, the most successful resident of Los Angeles County is an immigrant entrepreneur.
Charles Crumpley is editor of the Business Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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