CT’s Other “Dreamers” – Immigrant-Owned Small Businesses

Connecticut boasts a diverse history of immigration, with individuals from around the globe enriching the state's cultural tapestry and economic progression.

By Emanuela Palmares

Immigrant-run small businesses stand at the forefront of Connecticut's economy, propelling innovation, generating employment opportunities, and nurturing economic advancement.

According to DataUSA.com, in 2022, Danbury, CT had a population of 86.5k people, of which 32.7 percent (28,200 people) were born outside of the United States, which is higher than the national average of 13.6 percent. In 2021, the percentage of foreign-born citizens in Danbury, CT was 32.2 percent, implying that the rate has been increasing.

On the same token, from January 2019 through November 2021, Danbury had one of the highest numbers of new business registrations, 3,561, and in comparison, Hartford, the state capital, had 4,091.

But one does not need data to infer that many of these new businesses are, in fact, immigrant-owned - all one needs to do is take a walk down Main Street.

You might have heard of "Dreamers" - undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children, grew up here, and consider themselves Americans. Many of these immigrant-owned businesses are like Connecticut's other Dreamers - undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as adults who have found a way to pursue their American dream, regardless of their status. They are contributing to our state and our country's economy.

So, let's explore that economic impact of immigrant-led small enterprises in Connecticut, the process of establishing a small business within the state, and the feasibility for undocumented immigrants to embark on this entrepreneurial journey.

Immigrant-Led Small Businesses Play a Crucial Role in Shaping Connecticut's Economy

According to a comprehensive study conducted by the Fiscal Policy Institute, these enterprises have made a substantial impact by contributing over $1.3 billion in business income and providing employment opportunities for more than 50,000 individuals across the state. These businesses are not only significant contributors to job creation and consumer spending but also serve as vital sources of tax revenue, actively fueling economic growth and prosperity in Connecticut.

Undocumented immigrants face unique challenges when trying to start a small business in Connecticut. Although there are no explicit laws prohibiting undocumented individuals from launching a business, they must follow certain steps.

Entrepreneurial pathways do not require work authorization and include options such as starting a business, independent contracting, freelancing, or joining a worker cooperative. Undocumented individuals without work authorization can earn money through entrepreneurship using an Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN) or an Employer Identification Number (EIN).

Individuals can start their own businesses and become business owners regardless of their immigration status. According to the American Immigration Council, there are over 823,000 undocumented entrepreneurs who have their own business in the United States. Business owners are able to generate income, support themselves and their families, and have a meaningful career.

Starting a Small Business in CT

Embarking on the journey of initiating a small business in Connecticut entails several steps, including registering the business with the Secretary of the State, obtaining the requisite licenses and permits, and adhering to state and local regulations. Entrepreneurs can select from a range of business structures, including sole proprietorships, partnerships, or corporations, based on their specific requirements and aspirations. Furthermore, small business owners in Connecticut can access a plethora of resources and support services, like the Connecticut Small Business Development Center, to aid them in establishing and expanding their businesses.

The Connecticut Small Business Development Center (CTSBDC) recently appointed Pilar Illanes as the head of their upcoming CTSBDC Immigrant Entrepreneur Program. This program is dedicated to empowering immigrant entrepreneurs and international students in Connecticut, fostering an environment conducive to the launch and growth of businesses in the state.

Pilar, with her extensive background in international development and project management on a global scale, brings a wealth of knowledge to the realm of entrepreneurship. Hailing from Bolivia, her entrepreneurial journey and immigrant experience in establishing a business in the United States fuel her passion for empowering aspiring immigrant entrepreneurs. Fluent in both English and Spanish, Pilar excels in promoting multicultural understanding and facilitating effective communication, offering invaluable support to entrepreneurs in their nascent stages and small business owners striving for expansion.

Pilar's academic credentials include a BS in Business Management, a master’s degree in Design, Evaluation & Project Management, and an Executive Master’s Degree in Development Studies from the Geneva Graduate Institute in Switzerland. Beyond her academic and professional accomplishments, Pilar actively engages in community initiatives and mentoring programs focused on empowering women, embodying a steadfast commitment to making a positive impact in the lives of others.

Immigrant-led small businesses remain a cornerstone of Connecticut's economic landscape, steering innovation, job creation, and economic advancement. While the process of establishing a small business in Connecticut may present challenges, immigrant entrepreneurs can navigate these obstacles with the aid of resources and support services. Undocumented immigrants, although facing additional hurdles, can surmount these challenges with resilience and determination, paving the way for successful business ventures within the state.

If you're an immigrant with dreams of starting your own business, don't hesitate to ask for help. The Connecticut Small Business Development Center has a team of 19 business advisors, experts in various areas, such as small-business lending, entrepreneurship, technology innovation, exporting, and market strategy. These advisors are divided into teams that specialize in helping clients in pre-venture stages, securing capital, acquiring customers, and managing operations and processes.

Get in touch with them to create your free and confidential advising plan by sending an email to ctsbdc@uconn.edu.