Celebrating the Immigrant Entrepreneur


For the past couple of months, The Immigration Learning Center has been reaching out to local communities and collecting nominees for its upcoming Immigrant Entrepreneur Awards Dinner. Now with the deadline for submitting names passed, it’s time for the selection committee to go through the lists and determine who the Center will honor as outstanding Massachusetts immigrant entrepreneurs in four categories: business growth, neighborhood business, high-tech business and life science business.

“There was so much negativity generated by last year’s (presidential) election that we at The ILC are really looking forward to the hopeful inspiration that comes out of the Immigrant Entrepreneur Awards,” said ILC Founder and CEO Diane Portnoy in a press release announcing the event. “Every year, I am so impressed by the triumphant stories of the nominees and winners, from the corner store owner to the innovator curing cancer. I’m sure there are even more great stories out there, and I can’t wait to see the nominations roll in.”

While the committee has specific details that they will be looking for in an ideal candidate (click HERE), Color Magazine recently interviewed the ILC CEO to find out what qualities she thought the ideal Immigrant Entrepreneur candidate needed to have.



“When I think of the people who will be nominated, I always think of my parents, who were Holocaust Survivors and who came to America looking for a new life after the war,” she said. “They went from Ellis Island to Malden, Massachusetts. They didn’t speak English, they had very little money and they had no idea of American culture, but they found immigrant people like themselves and eventually built a community and, through hard work, became American business owners.”

While hard work is certainly a key factor to any potential award winner, Portnoy talked about other important attributes the committee will be looking for.

“It takes an amazing amount of courage for someone to leave everything behind – their country, their friends and sometimes family, their culture and travel hundreds or thousands of miles to start all over again,” she said. “And it takes an equal amount of drive and courage to become successful. So, the entrepreneur candidates need to show they have that drive to make a better life for themselves.

“More importantly, though,” she added. “They need to be doing something to give back to their community and to the people who will be following in their path. Are they providing local jobs? Are they active participants in the life of the community they live in. What are they doing to improve the quality of life for the immigrant people around them?”

Portnoy then shared another story, this one from her experience at the ILC. “We offer free English classes to immigrant and refugee adults over the age of 16,” she said. “There is a group of men studying now who work from midnight to 8 AM working in a refrigerator packing salad. When they finish work, they come here to learn. That to me says a lot about the immigrant spirit we are celebrating at the awards dinner; people who are willing to do whatever it takes to make life better for themselves, their family and their community.”

The sixth annual Immigrant Entrepreneur Awards Dinner will be held on Thursday, May 4, 2017, at the Royal Sonesta Hotel in Cambridge, Mass, presented by The Immigrant Learning Center, Inc. (ILC) with featured speaker Jeff Bussgang, general partner at Flybridge Capital. For tickets and information, click HERE.