Immigrants are nearly twice as likely to become entrepreneurs as native-born U.S. citizens. A community initiative in Silicon Valley is now engaging the immigrant and refugee entrepreneurial spirit through a program focused on supporting potential new business founders.
The Pars Equality Center created the Pars Entrepreneurship Program as a response to a forum that it held; where newly-arrived refugees were invited to hear the stories of successful Iranian-Americans. Participants began asking for more tools, mentors, and practical advice on starting businesses.
Just a couple of years after it started, the Pars Entrepreneurship Program has already become wildly popular, shared Ellie Derakhshesh-Clelland, the Senior Director of Social Services at the Pars Equality Center. Shortly after creating an Entrepreneurship Program page on Facebook, the page had more than 3,000 followers. “That by itself is an indication of what a huge need there is for a program like this,” said Ellie.
“We sat down and brainstormed with aspiring entrepreneurs for about three months to find out what their needs were,” said Ellie.
The outcome is that Pars Equality Center now hosts bi-weekly meetings featuring experts and business founders who lead roundtable discussions about particular entrepreneurship topics. Topics range from how to incorporate a company to sales planning and fundraising. The group is currently at capacity, with some 50 refugees and immigrants who have been in the U.S. for 3 – 7 years in regular attendance. In addition, a group of mentors is available for individual questions outside of the larger group meetings. Pars Equality Center staff have been successful in finding subject experts and mentors through their personal networks and LinkedIn searches.
Although the group is diverse in age and professional background, one commonality is that “they all have an entrepreneurial mindset,” said Ellie. “They came to Silicon Valley with the hope of starting their own company.”
Twelve entrepreneurial initiatives, all tech-based, have blossomed since the program began. Participants practiced describing their business concepts at a recent Pitch Day event, where investors and advisors were invited to provide feedback. From there, eight participants were selected to take part in a meeting with a capital venture firm and three vendors. Ellie said that although investors expected young refugees and immigrants would need a lot of guidance, they were “in awe of their talent” and also learned new ideas from the entrepreneurs.
The Pars Equality Center is a community-based social and legal organization that focuses on integration of Iranian-Americans, immigrants and refugees.
Written by Carrie Thiele.