^ John Barros, Boston’s Director of Business Development : helping women become entrepreneurs. Cities do that.
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Why is it so hard or a woman to start a new business ?
That was the question asked of me yesterday by a good friend, a woman of long-time American heritage who lives in an exurb on the North Shore. She was responding to a facebook post showing that immigrants start businesses at almost double the rate of long-time Americans.
Her question is a good one, as is the issue of why immigrants start so many more businesses than long time Americans. Neither admits of a simple answer. There isn’t room, in an op-ed of 700 to 1000 words, to list and analyze all the likely reasons why immigrants do entrepreneurship so well, or why a non-immigrant woman living in an exurb might find it hard to start a business; but it’s well worth briefing some of the factors.
Immigrants have two ready advantages over long-time Amerricans. First, because they live in communities of language, often close by each other, they start all the businesses that the nation at large starts but which they, not proficient in English, or not speaking it at all, cannot patronize : they do restaurants, their own insurance firns, their own lawyers and tax accountants. They do radio stations, groceries specializing in what they ate back home. They do check cashing, money wiring, real estate firms. These they do in addition to starting businesses, eventually, that cater to others outside their ethnic community.
Immigrants also seem better positioned to committing the entire extended family to a new business. Long-time Americans are more likely to live in nuclear familes, the relatives living far away, maybe out of state or even out of the country entirely, pursuing their separate lives; whereas immigrant families arrive more or less all at once, starting their American lives at the same time and place and thus all available to help.
The second advantage immigrants enjoy is that almost all of them live in cities. It is hard to plant an immigrant community of 5000 to 10,000 people in a suburb; few in the community have money to buy a home, and out there rentals are few. To live in exurbia, one needs a car; few immigrants readily acquire funds to buy and register a car, or to pass the road test, which requires some knowledge of English. Thus immigrants by and large take the bus to work. If you ride the 5 AM to 6.30 AM buses, you will see them on their way to the jobs that they almost monopolize : cleaning offices, hospitals, college dorms, and working hotels and restaurant kitchens. These jobs are city jobs.
Living in cities gives immigrants an enormous entrepreneurial advantage. Cities are populous with diverse interests, and it is from diversity that commerce arises : a community where everyone is a farmer is a community without commerce. Commerce requires that A buys from B what she, A, does not have, and that B buys from A, what he, B, does not make. There can be some of that in exurbia, but in cities, that is the whole story. Everybody has or does soemthing that everybody else needs or wants. An immigrant can start almost any kind of business in a city and find customers : food trucks (try doing THAT in exurbia !), day care, pet walking, a gas station, a DJ service. (Yes, you can do all of these in exurbia, but it’s much much harder, because customers are sporead out and not easily informed that the new business even exists. In the City, that’;s not the case.
Cities are also where public relations businesses start up, and entertainments, and networking firms. Cities host all sorts of journalism (simply because so much of interest is happening). And cities are where most technology start-ups start, because cities are where the advanced education institutions are found — and their students.
Again, all of these can initiate in exurbia but subject to all sorts of obstacles that don’t pertain in cities.
Lastly, cities have offices of business development that help new entrepreneurs to get started. Because cities are who they are, city business development teams give special attention to immigrants, people of color and — women; extra attention and pathways to funding. Exurbia doesn’t do that. Living out there — 25 to 50 miles from the city — you’re pretty much on your own, in an environment not plenteous with commercial opportunity.
as exurbia is where my friend lives, she has full cause to complain. Perhaps she can start a pet-sitting business, or do crafts, or repair laptops and computers; or do house cleaning — all in high demand in exurban towns. She might also become a real estate broker, as many exurban women do. She’ll have to do it without much set-up help and using her own capital.
I wish I had more suggestions to offer her than these; but demographics really are destiny where commerce is the goal.
—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere