International Rescue Committee (IRC)

IRC's Microenterprise Program

IRC's Microenterprise Program
Starting a business provides an opportunity for refugees to generate income for their family, pursue their passion, and support the local community. For many refugees, entrepreneurship directly represents the  American Dream. But for refugees with language and cultural barriers, opening a business in America presents a wide variety of challenges, including accessing start-up capital, understanding U.S. business culture and regulations, and operating in an internet-based economy. 

The IRC in San Diego, together with Women’s Empowerment International , offer a wide variety of microenterprise development products and services to assist refugees in launching successful businesses.   Link to refugee-owned businesses in San Diego.  For more information, contact

Women’s Empowerment STAR Center (WE-STAR)
The Women’s Empowerment STAR Center is a specialized microenterprise program that assists low-income women with starting and expanding small businesses in San Diego. The STAR Center is a partnership between Women’s Empowerment International and the IRC. Since launching in 2006, the STAR Center has helped to start or expand more than 100 unique women-owned businesses, and provided entrepreneurial training to nearly 300 women. For more information about the STAR Center, please contact the STAR Center Business Counselor, Lubna Saleem.(

The Microenterprise Program and the STAR Center offer direct business loans up to $15,000 to help refugees start or strengthen a small business. To date, more than 180 refugee entrepreneurs have accessed loans totaling more than $1,000,059. The average loan size is $4,000 and the repayment rate is 96%.

Business Technical Assistance
The Microenterprise Program and the STAR Center offer free, one-on-one business technical assistance and consultations to assist refugees with licensing, permitting, business planning, market research, insurance. In fiscal year 2011, more than 150 refugee entrepreneurs (80% women) worked one-on-one with a microenterprise business counselor to help start or strengthen their business. 

Marketing and Promotion
The Microenterprise Program and the STAR Center offer free, one-on-one marketing consultation and trainings to assist small business owners as they start or expand their businesses.  The program also offers in-house graphic design, website setup and promotional services.

Over the last 10 years, refugees have started more than 170 small businesses with assistance of the IRC, and an additional 130 businesses have been expanded. These businesses create jobs, revitalize local neighborhoods, and provide needed goods and services for the community.

Special Thanks
The IRC in San Diego Microenterprise Program is thankful to its generous community supporters: Office of Refugee Resettlement, Office of Community Services, Local Initiatives Support Corporation, Union Bank of California, United Way of San Diego County, Women’s Empowerment International, and the City of San Diego.

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