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Kavir Ramos speaks into the microphone at a podium with an Immigrant Entrepreneurs Summit sign on the front. Flags and a Wells Fargo banner are behind him. A man and woman sit at a table facing the podium.
Kavir Ramos makes his winning pitch to judges at the 2018 Immigrant Entrepreneurs Summit.

Inspiring small business owners to dream

Kavir Ramos and other Iowa residents from more than 35 countries are using skills they learned at the Wells Fargo-supported Immigrant Entrepreneurs Summit conference to grow their small businesses.

Nota del editor:  También está disponible una versión en español de esta historia.


Kavir Ramos is continuing a family tradition started many years ago by his grandmother at her home in Chihuahua, Mexico — tortilla making.

“I want to have an American dream and make it grow. I want this to go national. … Wells Fargo is giving me the confidence to succeed in my business.”

— Kavir Ramos

Tortilleria Chihuas, Ramos’ tortilla factory in Iowa City, is one of thousands of diverse-owned companies thriving in Iowa in part because of lessons learned at the Immigrant Entrepreneurs Summit — a statewide conference offering participants finance, legal, marketing, and other business education as well as the chance to compete for cash to further grow their businesses.

As the latest winner of the summit’s Underwriting Exposed contest, Ramos used the $5,000 prize he received from Wells Fargo to upgrade to resealable packaging, keeping his tortillas fresher for customers who find his products in chain grocery stores, Mexican grocery stores, and restaurants.

Tortilla entrepreneur Kavir Ramos in his factory in Des Moines, Iowa. (2:02)

“I want to have an American dream and make it grow,” Ramos, 20, said of the business he and his dad created in 2018. “I want this to go national. … Wells Fargo is giving me the confidence to succeed in my business.”

‘Let’s grow together’

Ying Sa, chair of the Immigrant Entrepreneurs Summit, created the program with two other Iowa business owners in 2008.

Head and shoulders photo of Ying Sa, chair of the Immigrant Entrepreneurs Summit. She has black hair and wears glasses with black-rimmed frames, an orange top, and a silver necklace.
Ying Sa, chair of the Immigrant Entrepreneurs Summit.

“We wanted to help immigrant entrepreneurs find all the proper resources and education they needed to be more successful in their business ventures and to foster an environment of inclusiveness in business,” said Sa, principal of accounting firm Community CPA & Associates Inc. and a former Wells Fargo team member in Des Moines.

Wells Fargo’s support of the summit, held each year in Ankeny, Iowa, and three mini summits also held statewide each year, has helped attendees like Ramos form more than 1,323 new companies over the past 11 years — creating more than 6,711 new jobs and generating more than $467 million in sales revenue for Iowa.

The company’s involvement with Sa and her team includes board membership, conference planning, financial education and networking at the company’s booth, leader speeches, judging and awarding the Underwriting Exposed competition, and more.

“The idea was ‘Let’s grow together’ — immigrant businesses working with mainstream businesses and the general public to create more economic opportunity for everyone and come together instead of competing,” Sa said. “Wells Fargo’s management team immediately endorsed the idea, and team members from Wells Fargo played active roles on the planning team — and that financial, volunteer, and technical support continues today.”

Shane Zimmerman, Business Banking manager in Iowa for Wells Fargo, said the summit’s vision aligned with Wells Fargo’s desire to help Iowa grow the number of diverse-owned small businesses.

“What works to start a business in another country is often different here in the U.S.,” Zimmerman said. “Some small business owners maybe don’t fully understand what it takes to get a loan in an American bank, or legally create a business or navigate zoning and other laws. The summit and mini summits help fill that void and serve the fastest-growing segment of business owners in Iowa.

Left, Schabel smiles. A Brazil flag is bottom left. Right, the words “I’ve always admired business owners' courage to create something of their own, face the unexpected, and battle their own fears,” Claudia Schabel, Schabel Solutions.

“After seeing the success of the annual summit, we thought we could do many smaller seminars around Iowa and work with Ying and her team to add the mini summit conferences.”

With state sponsorship and the support of former Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, current Gov. Kim Reynolds, and business, industry and other groups, Sa and summit organizers have further expanded the program beyond Iowa — to Illinois in 2018, and to Minnesota in 2019.

‘The heart and soul of Iowa’s economy’

According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, there were nearly 268,000 small businesses in Iowa in 2018, or 99.3% of all Iowa businesses. Of those, more than 14,700 were minority-owned businesses — a number that has nearly doubled from the 8,000 in 2013.

In addition to the Immigrant Entrepreneurs Summit series of conferences, Gov. Reynolds said the Iowa Economic Development Authority’s Targeted Small Business program is another way the state is helping minority-owned businesses.

Left, Karim in a dark suit, white shirt, and purple pattered tie. A Bangladesh flag is bottom left. Right, the words “I enjoy my business, as I get to solve problems every day,” Russel Karim, Full Access Active Solutions & Cedar Valley Food Runner.

Since the Authority assumed management of the program in 2016, 73 businesses have received microloans ranging from $30,000 (for startups) to $50,000 (for existing businesses) totaling more than $1.6 million. In addition, over 300 businesses have become state-certified to become eligible to work for companies like Wells Fargo with supplier diversity programs.

“Small businesses and startups are the heart and soul of Iowa’s economy,” Reynolds said. “We’re known for embracing entrepreneurs of all ages and backgrounds who want to bring new ideas or inventions to market that revitalize, invigorate, and transform our local economies.

“Each year, we see aspiring, new, or established entrepreneurs flock to the Immigrant Entrepreneurs Summit and mini summits taking place in Iowa,” she said. “It’s a chance to connect with vital resources, accomplished professionals, and like-minded startups. I’ve seen firsthand how these events inspire individuals to dream big and understand the unlimited opportunities that exist for them in our state. We’re proud to join Wells Fargo and others in this ongoing effort.”

Left, Nabukeera in a flowered dress. A Uganda flag is bottom left. Right, the words “The biggest challenge I had to overcome in starting a business in the United States was raising startup capital,” Goreth Nabukeera, Global Linkage Partners.

Belma Jusufovic shares Reynolds’ pride. She joined Wells Fargo’s Business Banking team for Central Iowa in March 2018 because she wanted to help others just like her achieve their dreams. Her mother and father were shot and nearly killed during the Bosnian War, and their neighborhood in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, was turned to rubble.

Because of Lutheran Social Services, and the fact that Iowa was accepting refugees, her former import business owner father and assistant national bank director mother started over in May 1996 in Des Moines, Iowa, with minimum-wage jobs packing spices and creating microfilm.

“Kids would say to me at school, ‘Didn’t you wear those same jeans yesterday? Did you even wash them?’” recalled Jusufovic, who was also on the judging panel that awarded Ramos the top prize in the Underwriting Exposed competition.

Left, Melgar with a Belize flag at bottom left. Right, the words “(Through the summit) we were able to acquire better computers to be able to handle graphic design software and work more effectively,” Wilfredo Melgar, Conexion Network.

“Wells Fargo has many diverse employees with diverse backgrounds just like me who can relate to immigrants wanting to better their lives, their need to create, and want to have something — the desire to always prove that you are capable and good and want to be accepted, and are worthy and do belong,” she said. “Because of our experience, we’re able to help these customers on a whole different level.

“When I first met Marta Codina (Wells Fargo region bank president for western Iowa), she shared with me the story about her experience with Wells Fargo as an immigrant from Cuba, how the company supported her and others like her, and I knew I wanted to be a part of this great story,” Jusufovic said.

“When I was a teenager, there was no one there to really help you live day to day and help you uncover how to navigate society. Now, through the summit and what I do every day at Wells Fargo — banking and money management — I can help these fighters, truly driven and inspiring people like those whose stories I heard as an IES judge, as they make their own transitions to life here in the U.S. If I could, I’d give them all first prize.”

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