CORALVILLE — Though some Iowa immigrants might possess a wealth of entrepreneurial spirit, their business know-how — and access to resources for developing it — often can make the difference in whether their venture succeeds or stalls.
About 30 people, including aspiring entrepreneurs and local and state officials, gathered Tuesday morning at an Immigrant Entrepreneurs Summit at the Kirkwood Regional Center at the University of Iowa in Coralville.
The statewide conference is intended to serve as an “equalizer” of knowledge, “bringing immigrants to the business world, to do business properly and make them stand on their own feet” while also giving organizations an avenue to share resources with those communities, said Ying Sa, the summit’s chairwoman and founder of Des Moines-based Community CPA & Associates Inc.
That way, she said, immigrants who otherwise might have the necessary skills for running a business could avoid pitfalls, as she said was the case with a man who gave up on his auto repair business after mistakenly opening up shop in a residentially zoned area.
Naftaly Stramer, who co-founded Oasis Falafel in Iowa City in 2004, shared his experience as an immigrant from Israel and emphasized the value of support from the community, including from local officials.
“My first year in the U.S., even though I was educated and came as a computer engineer, it was a complete culture shock: what do you do, where do you go ... let alone opening a business in a new country,” Stramer said.
Don Nguyen, a Des Moines-based corporate and finance attorney and Vietnamese refugee, also reviewed legal considerations for immigrant business owners, for whom a lack of procedural knowledge could result in costly legal actions or fines.
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For example, Nguyen said, those entrepreneurs must learn to distinguish between employees and contractors and keep documentation of employment eligibility for each worker, in case of what he said could be audits stemming from the owner’s immigrant status.
Entrepreneurs also can proactively communicate with their customers as a way to reduce or eliminate online complaints, Nguyen said.
“The number one reason that people complain to other entities is ... they don’t think they will get anywhere talking to you,” he said. “Make sure they know that, if they have any issue, they can talk to you and resolve the issue, even if it costs you some money.”
Since its inception in 2008, the Immigrant Entrepreneurs Summit has spawned 1,323 new companies from event participants, generating about $467 million in revenue and more than 6,711 new jobs in Iowa, organizers said.
The conference’s next mini-summit is scheduled for Oct. 22 at Iowa Western Community College in Council Bluffs, and its annual national summit will take place Nov. 23 at the FFA Enrichment Center in Ankeny.
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