Creating opportunity
How Immigrant Entrepreneurs Are Spearheading Newark’s Comeback
Varun Nayar | October 20, 2016

There’s a strong reason why Newark has been nicknamed the “Gateway City.” Together with Port Newark-Elizabeth and Newark Liberty International Airport, New Jersey’s largest city has grown to become a significant economic hub for the East Coast.

For decades now, Newark’s accessibility has also situated the metropolis as a hub for a robust foreign-born population. Immigrants have flocked to the city ever since the 1820s, when the first wave of Irish immigrants moved into the urban center and bolstered its industrial boom. Today, out of over 277,000 residents, more than a quarter are foreign-born and supplement the economy in a variety of ways, both small and large.

According to the Kauffman Foundation, immigrants across the United States are twice as likely to start a business as compared to native-born Americans. As of 2014, 28.5 percent of all new entrepreneurs were foreign-born. That ratio stands for residents of Newark as well, where 5.8 percent of the population is self-employed and foreign-born, nearly double the 2.3 percent of American-born residents.

As a city focused on getting back on the right track – working to increase economic output and reduce crime – it doesn’t come as a surprise that Newark has tapped into its flourishing immigrant, and often underserved, population to help create lasting and self-sustaining economic growth through entrepreneurship.

Earlier this year, Newark was lauded for becoming the largest and only city in New Jersey to offer ID cards to all residents regardless of their immigration status. Under the guidance and supervision of current Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, the program aims to help an increasing number of immigrant communities gain access to various civic agencies, schools, and cultural institutions, while also assisting them with practical tasks, like setting up bank accounts and small businesses. In fact, the program has already helped register 25 new small businesses with the city. The initiative, which began this past August, is just one of many ways Newark is creating better systems to support its foreign-born population.

However, many immigrant business owners today still need crucial support in getting their feet off the ground and working with various investors, incubators, and government agencies to reach their entrepreneurial goals. In some of its most effective programs, the city of Newark has worked with the Rutgers University Business School to help create greater access and support for its immigrant and underserved population.

The Rutgers PREP Class of 2014

The Rutgers PREP Class of 2014

In order to create a clearer route to entrepreneurial success for high school juniors, the Rutgers Pre-College Enrichment Program (PREP) offers an intensive 15-week program aimed at acquainting high-performing but underserved students to various aspects of a business education. This includes exposure to the Rutgers Business School (RBS), potential education tracks to pursue, and career options in entrepreneurship. Upon completion, the program’s students earn three academic course credits towards their undergraduate business degrees, encouraging them to attend the Rutgers Business School and to contribute to the local Newark economy.

Both the program and the business school share resources, such as classrooms and professors, in order to create an achievable and actionable goal for high school juniors to envision. “High school students understand what doctors and lawyers do, but they have less of an idea that business encompasses accounting, management, and entrepreneurship,” said Ray Williams, program coordinator for Rutgers PREP, which is run under RBS’s Office of Diversity Programs. “We [have] a chance to open their eyes to these disciplines.”

While some programs at the high school and college level are more focused on educating and incentivizing students to pursue careers in business within Newark, others are more interested in creating a stronger support system for people who have already made the jump into entrepreneurship.

The Entrepreneurship Pioneers Initiative (EPI) – run out of Rutgers University’s The Center of Urban Entrepreneurship and Economic Development (CUEED) — is focused on helping new first-generation businesses owners grow their businesses. These include New Jersey-based businesses that are ready to add staff, expand operations, and increase marketing efforts. The initiative’s nine-month intensive program allows participants to work directly with seasoned Rutgers University professors, as well as mentors to build and apply business strategies to their projects, while simultaneously networking and building relationships with others in the Newark and New Jersey business ecosystem.

Marcela Zuchovicki speaking at an EPI alumni event

Marcela Zuchovicki speaking at an EPI alumni event

The program’s graduates, and their businesses, have been credited with creating 181 jobs in the Newark area. Marcela Zuchovicki – an Argentinean-born immigrant from New Jersey – is a great example of an immigrant resident who benefited from the program. After the slowdown of her fair-trade coffee business, Jamila Coffee, Zuchovicki enrolled in the EPI to recharge her business. Interestingly, the mentorship at the program helped her begin an entirely new business, Jamila & Associates, which currently serves over 200 clients globally with virtual bookkeeping and financial services. In this case, the student quite literally became the teacher.

With her business managing over 250 employees in both the United States and India, Zuchovicki has become a recognized volunteer and business mentor across New Jersey. She’s been teaching finance and business management at the EPI since 2010 and served as the president of its Alumni Association from 2012-14.

By focusing its efforts on educating and supporting its rising immigrant entrepreneur class, Newark is demonstrating that the secret to building a stronger and more prosperous city lies in creating more opportunities for its residents, to not only gain employment for themselves, but to become future employers in their communities as well.