Immigration and Entrepreneurship

June 19, 2012  |  0 comments

By: Kristen Meredith

Just two weeks into my summer internship here at NFTE, I’ve already gained a deeper appreciation for the widespread presence and importance of entrepreneurship, both for individual growth and our society as a whole.

One event that put much of this into perspective was our office trip to Ellis Island. We rode the ferry from Battery Park over to Ellis Island and toured the Immigration Museum, which is housed in the main building where immigrants used to be processed. The trip was a great chance for the summer interns to get to know staff from NFTE’s headquarters.  For many of us it was also the first time to see Ellis Island.

Entrepreneurship as a concept and reality ran deep through the day.  Our tour guide was himself a successful entrepreneur; he has self-published the Ellis Island Immigrant Cookbook and he independently leads tours of Ellis Island. He explained to us how, while immigrants coming to Ellis Island were expected to arrive in prime physical condition and willing to work, it was actually illegal for them to arrive with a job already secured. As a result, many made their own jobs and built businesses, often using the unique skillsets that they had developed in their native countries. These immigrants played a key role in the formation of what became known as a unique American entrepreneurial spirit.

This entrepreneurial spirit has endured over time, and it remains stronger than ever among immigrants today. Forbes recently reported that entrepreneurship among immigrants in the U.S. has risen 10 percent over the past 10 years. Immigrants accounted for 28% of all new entrepreneurship activity in 2011. Immigrant entrepreneurs have created many of America’s most known and successful businesses, including Google and Intel. A number of successful new startups, such as Instagram and Skillshare, were also founded by immigrants. I find it striking how the same benefits of entrepreneurial thinking that empower NFTE students have played a particularly large role in the lives and success of our country’s immigrants.

Kristen Meredith is a summer 2012 intern at NFTE. She is currently a sophomore at Middlebury College and grew up in New York City.

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