Launching a new business as an immigrant entrepreneur takes time and money, but you don’t need to take it all on by yourself. Federal, state, local, and nonprofit immigrant entrepreneur programs can connect you to funding and other resources to help you start and operate your new business.
Federal entrepreneur programs for immigrants
Many of the federal programs below are free to join and offer resources and contacts for refugees and minority-owned businesses. Access to funding options, training in business and marketing, and even technology and supplies to operate your business are all available through these programs.
Many government agents sponsor immigrant entrepreneur grant programs and general small business grant programs. Government grants allow you to obtain funding for your small business that you don’t need to repay.
The website Grants.gov allows you to quickly search all of the current grant programs at once. When you find grants that your business may qualify for, you can usually complete the application process online.
To apply for federal grants, you will need to:
- Obtain a D-U-N-S number: the business credit-reporting bureau Dun & Bradstreet assigns these numbers to small businesses. You can apply for one online. The wait time is usually 45 days, but you can pay a fee of around $250 to expedite the process.
- Register with System for Award Management (SAM): the federal government uses this system to screen potential suppliers and contractors. You can register online for free. The registration is good for 12 months. Then, you will need to reapply.
Sponsored by the Office of Refugee Resettlement, the Microenterprise Development Program helps refugees who have been relocated to the U.S. become financially independent through entrepreneurship.
Through this entrepreneur program, immigrants can get training in:
- Developing business plans
- Managing a small business
- Marketing and advertising
The program also provides funding for technology that early entrepreneurs may need for business management, marketing, or bookkeeping. For example, the program may provide a laptop computer with accounting software that is preinstalled.
Also sponsored by the Office of Refugee Resettlement, the Wilson-Fish program helps resettled refugees who are striving to become financially independent. The program provides temporary cash assistance and helps refugees find various services.
Although not solely an immigrant entrepreneur program, WF can help prospective small business owners support themselves while starting up their companies and can connect them with service providers in their local areas.
The U.S. Department of Commerce operates the Minority Business Development Agency, which has offices throughout the U.S. These centers provide many services and programs for minority business owners. Immigrants can get assistance through a center if their businesses qualify as minority-owned enterprises.
A minority-owned business has:
- one or more people from recognized minority groups who own at least 51% of the company
- people who belong to a minority group directly involved in the day-to-day management and operations of the business
If your business qualifies, your local center can assist you with many business needs, such as securing funding, locating suppliers, or writing convincing proposals for contracts.
The U.S. Department of the Treasury established the Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization to allow the department to do more business with small businesses. Many immigrant-owned small businesses fit the criteria for programs offered by the office.
These programs include:
- Monthly outreach sessions: these let you explain your products and services to decision-makers within the department, potentially increasing the likelihood of securing profitable government contracts
- Procurement fairs: these let you learn about different opportunities for selling your products and services to the U.S. government
- Online resources: these allow you to gain an understanding of the benefits of being a government supplier and explain what steps you need to take to win government contracts
The Office Of Disability Employment Policy offers general and immigrant entrepreneurship programs for people with disabilities. You can gain access through a variety of services through the office to help you obtain training and other resources to support your small business.
The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency started the Roundtable for Economic Access and Change or Project REACh. This program brings together government officials and leaders in technology, banking, and business to increase participation in the U.S. financial system.
One of the initiatives of the project is to increase access to capital for minority-owned enterprises. The project sponsors local minority and immigrant entrepreneurship programs across the U.S.
The U.S. Small Business Administration partially funds the Score Association. The association connects small business owners with mentors across the U.S.
Mentors help immigrant entrepreneurs and other small business owners set goals and overcome obstacles for success. You can participate in the program no matter what stage your business is in. Plus, the mentorship is free.
The SBA establishes Small Business Development Centers (SBCDs) through partnerships with universities and state governments.
These centers offer a variety of general and immigrant business entrepreneurship programs related to:
- Business planning
- Growth strategy
- Financial management
- Human resources
- Management development
Women who are immigrant entrepreneurs can receive assistance at SBA Women’s Business Centers located throughout the U.S. The SBA sponsors these centers.
Program offerings vary from location to location, and can include:
- Funding assistance
- Guidance on obtaining federal contracts
- Counseling and coaching
- Networking opportunities
- Mentorship opportunities
The SBA Office of Entrepreneurship Education gives all entrepreneurs the ability to grow their skill set and knowledge. Through the SBA Learning Platform, you can complete free online training courses that walk you through the process of starting a business step-by-step.
The Ascent for Women program provides additional online learning opportunities for women who are small business owners.
This program sponsored by the SBA is available to socially and economically disadvantaged small business owners, including immigrants and minorities.
If your business has been in operation for at least two years, you can take advantage of this program to begin selling products and services to the federal government.
- Free training related to management and technology
- Discounted and free computers and equipment
- Opportunity to participate in public-private joint ventures
- Free mentorship
Small business owners with established businesses can receive one-on-one mentoring with experts in various business fields through the SBA’s Mentor-Protégé program.
Mentors can provide advice on:
- Strategic planning
- Obtaining funding
- Federal contract bidding
- International trade
- Business development
- Human resources
State entrepreneur programs for immigrants
State governments may sponsor immigrant entrepreneur programs that offer services and funding opportunities. Nearly all states offer some type of general entrepreneurship programs.
Many establish regional offices where small business owners can go to receive various types of support.
For example, Pennsylvania has Partnerships for Regional Economic Performance (PREP) offices that offer online training, workshops, financial assistance, and counseling. The California Office of the Small Business Advocate (CalOSBA) sponsors funding programs and many online references too.
Nonprofit entrepreneur programs for immigrants
Government agencies aren’t the only sponsors of immigrant entrepreneur programs. Nonprofit groups also provide services and support for immigrants starting small businesses.
The Hispanic Federation provides many services for Hispanic Americans, to new immigrants and lifelong citizens alike.
The Hispanic Federation’s Personal Finance Workshop is one of their most well-known projects. It teaches you how to budget, save money, make smart investments, and use credit wisely.
Those who want to start a small business can learn how to use their own finances and credit profile to fund their ventures through the workshop.
The nonprofit UpwardlyGlobal helps immigrants find employment in the U.S. It offers job placement, advising, and coaching for individuals who meet specific criteria.
To qualify, you must:
- Have immigrated to the U.S. within the last 7 years
- Hold an immigration status that allows you to legally work in the U.S.
- Hold at least a bachelor’s degree or an equivalent degree
- Speak English at a conversational level
- Live in California, Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, or Washington D.C.
If you qualify, UpwardlyGlobal can connect you with resources to help you start a business and assist you with finding a job. Then, you can begin to save money for your startup, if needed.
Localized nonprofit entrepreneur programs for immigrants
Many small nonprofits offer immigrant entrepreneur programs in the communities they serve.
One example is the group Escala, which offers small business development consulting for low-income U.S. citizens and immigrants living in Northern Virginia.
To find programs in your area:
- search the Internet for “immigrant entrepreneur programs [your city name]” and “immigrant entrepreneur programs [your county name]”
- inquire at local churches and schools
- check local community centers
- call your local and county government offices
- network with other immigrant entrepreneurs in your area