November is National Entrepreneurship Month. Asian American entrepreneurs can lay claim to a track record of achievement, innovation, and value creation — entrepreneurship is core to the Asian American experience. It is the most celebrated and cherished ethos of this fastest growing community in the U.S. Taking the risk to start a business and to work hard to sustain and grow that business is the story of millions of Asian American families.
As leading actors in the U.S. economy, Asian American entrepreneurs’ contributions cut across all segments. They are innovators in technology start-ups in Silicon Valley; they operate restaurants and convenience stores in neighborhoods across the U.S.; they run medical clinics, often in underserved communities. Fundamental to this mosaic of entrepreneurial success stories is a set of core characteristics: a strong work ethic, a disciplined pursuit of education, and an unshakeable faith and optimism about the country’s future.
The impact of Asian American entrepreneurship is clear and increasingly significant. Today, more than one million Asian American entrepreneurs generate $300 billion in sales, providing jobs for more than 2 million workers. As the U.S. faces difficult economic times, these contributions are a vital catalyst to economic recovery.
When we began our term on the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, we set engagement and support of the entrepreneur community as our top goal. The Asian American businesses’ role is critical to the success of the U.S. economy in the 21st century. Their relationships and family bonds in Asia are assets in developing commercial ties with the economies of China, India, and South Korea.
Over the course of the year, I have had the opportunity to meet hundreds of entrepreneurs across the country. The focus of our engagement is to share and disseminate information on federal initiatives and resources that entrepreneurs can utilize to build and grow their ventures. Our inaugural Summit on Entrepreneurship in Silicon Valley drew more than 700 entrepreneurs and kicked off our conversation with business leaders across the U.S. This was followed by a series of events including town hall meetings in Seattle and Las Vegas, as well as policy roundtables on topics including H1-B visas, Health IT, federal contracts and intellectual property protection.
As an entrepreneur who is running a global business, I can relate to the challenges and opportunities entrepreneurs face in an increasingly competitive global marketplace. Attracting and retaining top talent is often the most critical business imperative. In recent years, the rising cost of healthcare has inhibited entrepreneurs’ ability to expand their teams. Lack of health coverage, which already affects minority communities at higher rates, hampers many firms’ ability to hire and retain top talent. I found widespread appreciation among my fellow entrepreneurs for the administration’s efforts to reform health insurance, lower costs and boost productivity through participation in insurance exchanges and tax credits – benefits introduced as part of the Affordable Care Act. I also found widespread support from entrepreneurs for the President’s proposal as part of the American Jobs Act to cut the payroll tax rate by half. For many small businesses these changes can result in significant savings, allowing for increases in investments in talent and capital expenditures.
As we move forward, the AAPI entrepreneur community has an opportunity to take a leadership role in the U.S. economic recovery. Today’s difficult economic environment challenges us all to step forward and help others, to mentor those who are aspiring to be entrepreneurs, and to share knowledge and expertise with those who lack resources. The AAPI community indeed has the capacity and talent to have an impact that transcends communities, if not the world.
Dilawar Syed is a member of the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.