On September 18th, over 75 community members gathered at Church & State for the third annual New American Dream Lab to support four New American entrepreneurs as they pitched their business ideas during Welcoming Week. The entrepreneurs, Naima & Osman, Jawaher, and Ahimara, all hope to start or expand their small businesses which include a childcare center, a natural henna business, and a bakery, respectively.  

New American entrepreneurs and their supporters at the New American Dream Lab with awards and presents in hand.
Joshua Lloyd, deputy director of programs at the IRC in Salt Lake City, described the entrepreneurs who participated in the New American Dream Lab: "A critical asset that people who move to this country bring with them is both their entrepreneurial spirit and their prior business experience."
Photo: Yuliya Eads

The New American Dream Lab, hosted by the Microbusiness Connection Center in partnership with the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Salt Lake City, Refugee Education & Training CenterWomen’s Business Center of Utah, Salt Lake County, and Utah State University, is an annual business pitch event for New American entrepreneurs, designed to empower them as they share their story and business ideas. The New American Dream Lab brought together members of the community and introduced them to some of the diverse small business owners who help create a dynamic business landscape in Utah.

Joshua Lloyd, deputy director of programs at the IRC in Salt Lake City, welcomed attendees and introduced the purpose of the event: “A critical asset that people who move to this country bring with them is both their entrepreneurial spirit and their prior business experience. One of the opportunities we have as a community is to help those individuals to fully leverage that asset and to gain the business community here to develop U.S. based business skills and also to use those assets and experiences they acquired previously.” Following Josh’s remarks, the entrepreneurs took the stage and pitched their business ideas.

Osman and Naima presenting to a crowd.
Osman and Naima pitched their business idea of a childcare center designed to serve children from diverse backgrounds to over 75 community members.
Photo: Yuliya Eads

After hearing the pitches, event attendees enjoyed small bites from Spice Kitchen Incubator entrepreneur Chef Hayat of Hayat’s Grill and voted for their favorite business idea.

Business partners Naima and Osman, with their childcare business designed to accommodate non-traditional schedules of working, refugee parents, won crowd favorite and first place! As the pitch competition winners, Naima and Osman received the grand prize of $2,500 in business capital and a laptop. Jawaher and Ahimara, however, did not leave empty handed: each was awarded $1,000 and a laptop as well. Business capital prizes and laptops were generously donated by Internet Essentials from Comcast.

Naima and Osman hope their future childcare center can serve children from diverse backgrounds, providing quality care and early learning opportunities in a healthy and safe environment. Drawing on their personal and professional experiences, they believe they can gain the trust of refugee communities in Salt Lake County.

"If we are going to reach a diverse population, trust is something that is necessary. Many refugees do not trust sending their kids to a daycare that doesn't speak their language or understand the experiences they have gone through. I feel we will be able to meet those needs,” Naima explains.

Shireen Ghorbani, member of the Salt Lake County Council, addressed the audience, sharing her experience as the daughter of an immigrant and encouraging support of New Americans. “You are Salt Lake County. You are Utahns. And I’m thrilled to be here in the presence of these great entrepreneurial ideas. That spirit is the very spirit of who we are in this community...it’s important to note that immigrants and refugees are starting businesses at a higher rate than others are in our community. You are leaders, you are driving conversations, you are speaking up for your communities and I want you to know that I stand with you."
Photo: Yuliya Eads

For the business partners, winning the competition means hope, support and motivation. Naima shared what the business capital prize means for them: “[Winning gives us] hope for our business to prosper in the future and to fulfill the goals and dreams we have always had, not only for ourselves but for other individuals to be able to work and provide for their families... it’s all about empathy and caring for our fellow refugees.”

Osman reflected on the competition as well: “This gives us motivation and shows us that we have support. We can go on and get any support we need from the community. It tells us that the Salt Lake community is behind us, they are here to support us.”

Thank you to all of the community members who came out to support these New American entrepreneurs, and all who help make refugees welcome in our community!

A heartfelt thanks to the event sponsors: Internet Essentials from Comcast and Salt Lake City through the ACE Fund. A special thanks for our friends at Kiitos Brewery and Water & Wellness for supplying beverages at the event. Thanks to RadioActive at KRCL for their efforts to promote the New American Dream Lab and raise the profile of refugee and New American-owned businesses. And a warm thanks to our committed partners who continue to support economic empowerment opportunities for refugees and New Americans in Salt Lake County: Microbusiness Connection Center, Refugee Education & Training Center, Women’s Business Center of Utah, Salt Lake County and Utah State University.

Learn how you can support New American entrepreneurs like Naima, Osman, Jawaher, and Ahimara by visiting Rescue.org/SupportSLC.