ASIA, Inc.’s Microloan Program Assists Immigrants and Refugees Reach Their Dreams of Becoming Small Business Entrepreneurs

 Ali Bai inside Lucky Seven Family Grocery Store.

Akron, OH – Ali Bai, his wife Rokimar Bi, and five kids came to the United States from Burma as refugees in January 2010. Having a passion to start his own business, he started to run a home business in 2014 selling traditional Burmese clothing and cosmetic products. “It was our dream to open a store,” Rokimar Bi said. “We want to make sure our children have a bright future and a good education.”

Ali Bai first met with Asian Services In Action, Inc.’s counselors in December 2016. His home business had many challenges due to his limited-English proficiency, limited inventory, and no actual store. After learning about his situation, Financial Capability Capacity Program Coordinator Soengkha Mahn and Small Business Development Assistant Thet Mar Win helped create a small business technical assistance plan for him. 

The plan included searching for a store location, connecting utilities, applying for a vendor’s license, getting the building inspection, and renovating the store. On November 30, 2017, Ali Bai opened his first store (called the Lucky Seven Family Grocery) at 304 E. Cuyahoga Falls Avenue in Akron, Ohio. Meanwhile, he applied for a $10,000 small business loan through ASIA’s Microloan Program to cover his basic expenses in the new store. Within three months, he successfully paid off his loan. In July 2018, Ali Bai received a second loan which allowed him to increase his inventory. 

“We rent [the space] now. I hope one day we’ll be able to buy the space so we can expand the store,” Rokimar Bi explains. When asked, Rokimar and Ali agree that it would have been very difficult to open the store without ASIA’s help. “[ASIA] helped with many things, but most importantly with the language barrier. We could have opened the store on our own but it would have been very difficult.”

There are a lot of refugees and immigrants like Ali Bai and Rokimar Bi. According to the 2017 New American Economy report, in 2015, refugee entrepreneurs in the United States generated $4.6B in business income. In the same report, Ohio’s refugee population generated $819 million in spending power. The report indicates that once refugees arrive in the United States they continue to display particularly high levels of entrepreneurship. 

During the period 2017-2018, ASIA’s Microloan Program turned $100,000 into eight new businesses across Northeast Ohio. This has created opportunities for refugees and immigrants in the community to reach self-sufficiency through language, technical, financial, and most importantly, emotional support.

Rokimar Bi says if she could give any piece of advice to aspiring entrepreneurs it would be through the stories of their hardships they faced while opening the store. “There were a lot, so I would share our experience and would encourage them not to give up.”

For over two decades, ASIA, Inc. has provided programs and services vital to the community. We offer assistance and basic needs support services to over 58,000 individuals and families, our new Americans, annually throughout Northeast Ohio. 

Please join ASIA, Inc. as we celebrate 23 years of community service with this year’s theme — Communities Thriving Through Entrepreneurship— and support the strengthening of our community through immigrant and refugee entrepreneurs.

For more information about this year’s gala, visit the webpage here.

All proceeds from our 2019 Annual Gala and Fundraiserdirectly support our mission to empower and advocate for Asian Americans & Pacific Islanders (AAPIs); and to provide AAPIs and other communities access to quality, culturally, and linguistically appropriate information, health, and social services.