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Behind the Dream: Five Lessons We Can Learn From Immigrant Biz Owners

Since 2004, Yelp has worked to connect millions of people to the best in local business. In that time we’ve met thousands of passionate small business owners, a group as hard-working and diverse as any you’ll find. In this series, we share stories of just some of the people who, through their commitment to building great local businesses, are sustaining the vibrant local communities we call home.

The Yelp Colorado community spent the month of March going Behind the Dream, learning from immigrant and minority biz owners right here in our backyard. We tried our hand at hot pot, painted while caffeinated, learned how to KBBQ (twice!), crafted our own empanadas, and listened in on a panel of five-star business leaders.  More importantly, we heard stories about what it means to truly live the American dream. Whether you’re a budding biz owner, a seasoned entrepreneur, or a conscious customer, read on for five inspiring lessons shared by immigrants living their dream.

Give back to your community.

“One of the things I try to instill in my business is corporate social responsibility. We’re a small company […] and work with different organizations and nonprofits, mostly centered around kids. Giving back to the community has always been part of our DNA. Since I went through it and experienced it myself, I know what they’re going through. We’ve all decided to live as a community, so we have to help each other as a community–whether you’re a big corporation or a small company. I think that comes from being an immigrant myself, growing up very poor, and recognizing that just because you’re poor doesn’t mean you’re not willing to work hard.”  – Mowa Haile, President of Sky Blue Builders

Opportunity is everywhere.

“In this country you have a lot of opportunities and sometimes Americans take it for granted. For me, I see all of the opportunities. There’s a lot of support for small businesses and startups. When you’ve already started up and you’re onto the next level, you still have help from the city, from the state. There are even free classes you can take from Goldman Sachs or Stanford–there are a lot of things I never even imagined.” – Lorena Cantarovici, owner of Maria Empanada

Don’t do it all by yourself.

“The biggest thing that I’ve learned is don’t do everything by yourself. When you first start out, you are the accountant, you are the cook, you are the chauffeur. You do everything by yourself and sometimes you have to know when to outsource.” – Fetien Gebre-Michael, owner of Konjo Catering

Stay true to your culture.

“I think immigrants have a lot for Americans to see different things, eat different things, know different cultures. It’s great to be able to share a piece of you, a piece of your land, a piece of your country. I only work with Colombian chocolate and caramel or arequipe. It’s a way of giving to the culture here and a way of giving to your country.” – Catalina Glesige, owner of Sweet Fabula

Celebrate small wins.

“The truck wasn’t ready for our first event. We were committed and had paid our dues, but the truck wasn’t ready. We had to scramble, get another permit from the city, borrow a tent from somebody, get some tables. We started out with our empanadas–I believe we made 400 and within two hours they were gone. That was the best feeling–it’s really emotional.” – Jorge Aguirre, owner of La Chiva