Language Upskilling Will Create Even More Successful Immigrant Entrepreneurs


Tadd Wamester, Director of Partnership Development with EnGen

I’m typing on a laptop built by Apple (founded by Steve Jobs, son of a Syrian immigrant), sitting at a desk I bought at Home Depot (founded by Bernie Marcus, son of Russian immigrants), fueled by delicious chocolates from Aigner (a 100-year-old chocolate shop started by Austrian immigrants in my neighborhood in Queens, NY).

The fact that this blog about supporting immigrant entrepreneurship is brought to you by immigrant entrepreneurs is not an anomaly: Two out of every five Fortune 500 companies – well-known corporations like AT&T, Disney, Ford, Google, Heinz and McDonald’s – were founded by an immigrant or the child of an immigrant. Immigrant founders are also behind nearly one in three of the “Main Street” small businesses – grocery stores, restaurants and gas stations – that power local economies. Fostering even more of these entrepreneurs benefits all of us. Pre-pandemic, the nation’s 3.2 million immigrant entrepreneurs employed 8 million U.S. workers and generated $1.3 trillion in sales. Encouraging a new generation of entrepreneurs is key to driving our economic recovery and growth: Companies less than five years old create an average of 1.5 million new jobs for U.S. workers each year.

As catalysts of entrepreneurship on campus and in local communities, community colleges have an important role to play in this work. Organizations like NACCE are making timely strides in advancing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) through entrepreneurship, promoting business creation to foster economic mobility in historically underserved communities. But even more can – and must – be done to support entrepreneurship, especially amongst speakers of other languages.

English proficiency is a catalyst for immigrant entrepreneurs’ success in the U.S., and yet, it serves the needs of just 4% of its adult English learners, driving inequality and snuffing out business and job creation. Adults still learning English earn up to 40% less than their peers who speak the language proficiently. 

The driver of this disparity lies in our systems, not our students. Most English instruction in the U.S. is based on outdated models rooted in teaching abstract grammar and linguistic theories rather than the relevant, real-life language needed for communication. And despite advances in technology and digital learning platforms, much of our language instruction is still delivered in person in the U.S., creating access barriers for adult learners with scheduling and transportation barriers. 

Research has long indicated that adults learn best when content is relevant to their lives and livelihoods – and language is no exception. Personalized, contextualized and career-aligned language instruction models are linked to efficient, effective gains in English proficiency. Digitized platforms show promise to offer adult learners access to effective language learning at the scale needed to power entrepreneurship across the country. 

EnGen’s entrepreneurship career pathway is built on these best practices, offering an online, on-demand supplement to community colleges’ established English as a Second Language (ESL) course offerings. The pathway supports entrepreneurs’ English acquisition by exploring a topic of immediate relevance to their lives: how to start a business in the United States. Learners listen to advice from established entrepreneurs and access resources from the U.S. Small Business Administration on best practices for planning, building, marketing, managing and growing a business. By the end of the course, learners will gain relevant, real-life English skills – and build a business plan, learn about funding sources, and explore marketing and strategies to grow a business. EnGen also offers career-aligned pathways in fields ranging from CNA to CDL, Cosmetology to Certified Production Technician, providing language-focused on-ramps and complements to community colleges’ CTE offerings. From Denver to Dallas, we’re seeing success in integrating platforms like this into course offerings at community colleges across the country. Many of these graduates will go on to start their own small businesses, whether it be a new plumbing company or a nail salon, and these businesses will drive job growth and economic opportunity in their local community.

A Latin proverb suggests that fortune favors the bold – and indeed, research backs the notion that immigrants make successful entrepreneurs precisely because of their willingness to take risks. After all, the uncertainty of starting life in a new country isn’t dissimilar from that of starting a new business. Community colleges can take some of the risk out of both endeavors by providing would-be entrepreneurs with access to effective, efficient language upskilling platforms. 

From job creation to tech innovation to enjoying a box of delicious Austrian chocolates, when immigrant entrepreneurs succeed, we all reap the rewards. 

See how EnGen can address language barriers, advance entrepreneurship, and drive innovation on community college campuses and across the country. Schedule a demo with one of our workforce development experts.