2022 reports released by the American Immigration Council show that nearly 44% of Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or their children. The actual percentage of businesses founded by foreign-born individuals who moved to the US is 20.4%, an exceptionally impressive statistic because immigrants make up only 13.4% of the American population. These businesses cumulatively generate ~7 trillion US dollars for the American economy annually, a figure worth more than the GDP of most other countries in the world.
Several studies in the past decades confirm that immigrants from foreign countries are more likely to delve into entrepreneurship and become business owners than native citizens.
With all the statistics, reports, and figures backing these findings, the motivations behind the immigrant’s entrepreneurial struggle and determination remain unclear to many economic scholars. Despite the social, economic, and systemic inequalities and injustices that are undeniably meted out to immigrants in many foreign countries, these driven individuals still manage to break the limits, adapting and excelling in all forms of society. This phenomenon is not limited only to the United States. According to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, the vast majority of developed countries have a higher growth rate in immigrants than native-born citizens.
“The United States is a country built on the basis of immigrants, a country that has come forward with the efforts of many people who come with the American dream, seeking a better quality of life,” says Katherine Grullon Cuervo, Colombian-American entrepreneur and business lead at Distrivision, an international wholesale distributorship service supplying Shapewear, Lingerie, Activewear, Body & Garment care to business owners.
Most immigrants from third-world or war-torn countries leave their home nations and relocate to advanced countries in search of stability, greener pastures, and fresh opportunities to put roots down and genuinely thrive, as against merely surviving. The odds aren’t always stacked in their favor and the journey is never easy from the get-go, but perseverance is a quality that’s never lacking within the immigrant community. Tenacity and the ability to scour market opportunities with fresh eyes allow them to create unique micro-niches with massive potential in existing and new markets.
Never settling for the minimum
Distrivision is a franchise that was founded by Maria Ruth Cuervo, Katherine Grullon Cuervo’s mother, a versatile serial entrepreneur who came to America from Colombia. Katherine highlights the immigrant’s perspective of entrepreneurial success from Maria Ruth’s inspiring journey.
As a 13-year-old teenager growing up in Manizales, Colombia, Maria Ruth found her passion in enterprise management while working with her own mother and learning the ropes of the family business. Years later, she decided with her husband to sell everything they owned and migrate to the United States with their children, determined to give their girls the best quality of life within their means. Upon her arrival in the US, Maria Ruth wasted no time securing a job as a factory worker, and even then, her passions continued to soar.
“Starting from the bottom always reminds us where we want to go,” Katherine says. “Knowing where we come from and what we had been through, Maria Ruth, with her hard work was able to get promoted to a new position, although the difference in pay wasn’t a lot. Her entrepreneurial spirit flared, and all she wanted at the time was to find a way to generate better income. This is something that’s ingrained into the mind of the common immigrant – never settle for the bare minimum. We come from places and countries where work is sweated and a lot must be sacrificed for a living to be made. Luckily, other members of our Hispanic community with entrepreneurial passions were able to encourage Maria Ruth to start her own business.”
Infinitely grateful to her community for the motivation and unconditional support, Maria Ruth founded Shapewear Central, a boutique importing figure-shaping garments from Colombia. In due time, Shapewear Central set itself apart as a franchise bringing in high-quality useful products at fair and honest prices, and eventually, aspiring entrepreneurs sought out Maria Ruth for assistance to delve into the business.
With her daughter Katherine working actively in marketing and branding to oversee the transition, Shapewear Central became Distrivision, a distributorship and partnering franchise supplying everything from Shapewear and active wear to lingerie and post-op products. The business now offers employment and identity to hundreds of people across its headquarters and partner stores, founded on a legacy of honesty and transparency.
Systemic obstacles birthing a generation of determined entrepreneurs
A major factor attracting immigrants to entrepreneurship in foreign countries is the inadequacy of education for employment prospects in their home countries. In Colombia and many third-world countries, having a university education or degree certificate is not always a sure bet to getting established in the corporate world. Owning a business or accepting lower-tier employment are usually the only options for families without top-tier connections, and this trend forms a strong mindset within migrating citizens.
Also, many analysts claim employment difficulties are only faced by undocumented immigrants, but in reality, the discrimination spreads wider and also affects fully documented people, including those with permanent residencies.
The immigrant’s eagerness to make an honest and sufficient living is often taken advantage of by dishonest employers. They may be forced to work longer hours at reduced pay, work without employee benefits and insurance, show up on holidays, be kept in the dark about their rights and entitlements, and be subjected to racial discrimination and harassment.
This harsh reality becomes a strong motivation to establish their own businesses, be their own bosses, and provide better opportunities for their community members and other people.
As Katherine recalls, Maria Ruth built her business from scratch on the foundations of honesty, transparency, decency, and trust between the brand, its patrons, and partners. Despite the language being a barrier at first and other trials she faced as a young Hispanic woman in America running an importation business, Maria Ruth was determined to succeed. Holding onto her principles and values, today, she continues to run a business built on passion, grit, and communal love.
Katherine says: “We focused on creating an image that will identify more with what we do, which is wholesale distribution as a company. We focused on the transparency, love, and care with which we work together, along with the tireless effort we put into helping our business partners grow — both the business owner and our suppliers to maximize their results by being transparent and trustworthy.”