Welcome to Breaking the Blueprint — a blog series that dives into the unique business challenges and opportunities of underrepresented business owners and entrepreneurs. Learn how they’ve grown or scaled their businesses, explored entrepreneurial ventures within their companies, or created side hustles, and how their stories can inspire and inform your own success.
Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities, originating from around 20 diverse countries, have a long history of exclusion, strict immigration laws, and discrimination. When immigrants, like my grandfather, from East and Southeast Asia made it into America in the 19th and 20th centuries, most of the available jobs were backbreaking labor.
When access to employment was slim, or wages were low, many newcomers relied on building small businesses to provide for their families. Those businesses have become deeply rooted in the day-to-day life of American society–restaurants, nail salons, doughnut shops, dry cleaners, spas, markets, and many others.
Still, obstacles have continued to exist. The National CAPACD analyzed federal and membership data on AAPI small businesses and noted gaps in access to funding, a recent rise in hate crimes, and language barriers. Despite these challenges, the U.S. Census Bureau has reported around 2 million AAPI-owned businesses across all industries, from entertainment, healthcare, hospitality, manufacturing, real estate, tech, and more. Countless household names, like YouTube, DoorDash, Old Navy, Peloton, and Notion, were founded by Asian Americans.
Another roadblock that prevents entrepreneurs from growing successful companies is the need for more awareness of available resources. In this post, discover advice, organizations, and services that exist to meet the unique needs of AAPI business owners.
Learn From Successful AAPI Founders and Executives
Read books and articles or listen to podcasts, like this one featuring HubSpot's CEO Yamini Rangan, to learn stories about how successful entrepreneurs have built and kept their enterprises afloat. They'll have real-life lessons and perspectives to help you make the right decisions for your ventures.
I connected with a few AAPI founders whose companies have blossomed in the past couple of years. Here is some of their wisdom to encourage your success.
1. Don’t wait too long to start building your teams.
Sandro Roco, founder and CEO of Sanzo, says, “Don't wait too long to start building the right team. Especially in a tight labor market, it takes time to find, recruit, hire, and onboard the right team members. And so if you wait too long, you're actually behind. No brand or company that ever made it big did so with just the original founding team, and so it's important to hire well."
2. Fight for abundance.
Kim Pham, the co-founder of Omsom, says, "Fight for abundance. My sister and co-founder Vanessa and I fought deeply internalized scarcity from being daughters of Vietnamese refugees, and it pervades so much of our decision-making (especially in the early days) –– but to truly build the company of your dreams, you need to fight for that abundance and play to win. That means taking big swings and risks, but also choosing rest, joy, and celebration."
3. Practice intention and mindfulness.
Lucia Tran, creative producer and founder of Her Studio, says, "Everything I do has to be more than just about creating photos and videos for companies. Otherwise, what are we doing but selling yet another product? There has to be intention and mindfulness in what we offer to the world – build equity in your company, care about the people you hire and the people you're targeting, and work to bring joy to the world. I'm in the business of uplifting those who need a hand."
4. Believe in yourself.
Steffi Lynn, illustrator, muralist, and founder of Have A Nice Day, says, “Believe in yourself, believe in what you're doing, and keep going. Put yourself out there and be ready for anything that comes your way, because you never know what is available for you unless you try."
Get Involved With Your National and Local Asian Chamber of Commerce
A Chamber of Commerce is a nonprofit business network, not a government entity. Businesses, organizations, and individuals can become chamber members to advocate for economic development, job creation, community stability, and representation of their legislative agendas at local, state, and national levels.
In addition to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, there are local chambers across the country, including ones for minority communities. Becoming a member usually includes access to relationships with other businesses, discounts on services, a boost in visibility, and opportunities to have your voice heard.
Find the local Asian Chamber of Commerce in your city or state by searching the Chamber of Commerce Directory, and also check out the below organizations:
1. National Asian/Pacific Islander American Chamber of Commerce and Entrepreneurship
(National ACE) is an organization that advocates for economic development and community building for the current and next generation of AAPI entrepreneurs. With relationships with Congress, the White House, and federal agencies, National ACE leads multiple initiatives that provide grants, training, events, and amplification of AAPI voices. You'll read about a few of their programs in the following sections.
2. US Pan Asian American Chamber of Commerce Education Foundation
(USPAACC) is a nonprofit that serves as an educational and networking organization with a gateway to corporate and government contracts, suppliers, and Fortune 1000 companies. USPAACC's programs include business matchmaking, leadership series, legislative advocacy, pitch competitions, conferences, and awards.
Grow Your Network and Sharpen Your Skills
The National CAPACD reported that AAPI business owners primarily rely on family and friends for advice and money.
Still, a critical step in business growth is broadening your network, accumulating more opportunities, and learning new skills. Attending events, signing up for workshops, and joining organizations can introduce you to people and resources that will make the entrepreneurial journey less lonely and mysterious. Here are some networks to consider:
- The National Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development's (National CAPACD) Small Business Program provides financial education, coaching, and peer technical assistance for AAPI entrepreneurs and small business owners to help them build credit and capital. The majority of the business owners the program serves are immigrants or refugees.
- ACE NextGen is a community of young AAPI entrepreneurs striving to have more leadership presence in America while feeling fulfilled and supported in their careers. Membership includes educational programming, conferences, retreats, and access to invite-only networking spaces in person and online. ACE NextGen members also have the opportunity to work with National ACE and Fortune 500 companies to impact business policies.
- Gold House is best known for increasing the representation of API voices and faces in media and entertainment, but it also invests in Asian and Pacific Islander-founded companies. Its Futures Accelerator is a 12-week program with masterclasses, 1:1 advising, fund investments, fundraising support, and a community of start-up entrepreneurs. Gold House also hosts the Multicultural Leadership Coalition, a union of funds that helps place leaders from underrepresented communities on the Board of Directors and Advisory Boards of leading private companies.
- Asian Business Association educates its members on government policies on small businesses.It is active with several community organizations, public agencies, and corporations to represent the views of Asian American business owners. Members of the association are also encouraged to do business together, attend events, and recruit new talent by listing positions on ABA's job board.
- The Asian American Pacific Islander Business Summit is a free virtual event hosted by the U.S. Small Business Administration. Experts lead presentations, panels, and workshops across four tracks: Business Communication and Marketing, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Government Contract and Business Certification, and Small Business Financial Management and Investment Trends. In 2022, the summit will take place on November 13 and 14, with presentations in English and a few translation options.
Apply For Funding
Whether applying for grants and loans or securing funding from investors, having more capital will help speed up the process of acquiring the necessary components of running your business—for example, production, staff, and marketing.
- Gold House Ventures connects industry-changing entrepreneurs with investors to accelerate company growth.
- National ACE’s small business resource center provides virtual training on accessing capital, applying for grants, understanding government funding, marketing, and more. It also has a program called AAPISTRONG, which works with 100 of its affiliated Asian chambers of commerce to aid businesses negatively impacted by the pandemic, racial bias, and anti-AAPI hate.
Proudly Share Your Business and Be Easily Searchable
Some people are eager to support minority-owned businesses and often seek them out. Google launched the capability to add an "Asian-owned" attributeto business profiles, making it easy for customers to find businesses like yours using Google Maps and the search engine. When executing your traditional and digital marketing, feel free to affirm your AAPI roots.
There is space for your business to flourish, and an important step is seeking assistance from services and organizations created for that exact purpose. In time, these resources may help you build a strong business foundation for generations to come.