Local Asian-American business owners find support at White House summit

Jan. 10, 2011, 2:00 a.m.

Mountain View hosted a meeting of technological minds on Friday when about a thousand small business owners in Silicon Valley convened for a White House summit on entrepreneurship and small business growth. The White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) put on the five-and-a-half-hour event held on Microsoft’s Silicon Valley campus. It was free of charge.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, co-chair of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, kicked off the summit with a keynote speech that underscored the role of Asian Americans in the small business sector and the Obama administration’s efforts to jumpstart entrepreneurship.

Local Asian-American business owners find support at White House summit
U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke highlights the role of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the entrepreneurial world at a business summit in Mountain View. (Courtesy of Benson G. Chen)

“There’s a great legacy of Asian American/Pacific Islander entrepreneurs, innovators and small business owners in America– all we want to do is smooth the way for that long line of accomplishment to continue,” Locke told the audience Friday morning. “Despite continued hardship among Asian/Pacific Islanders, the community overall is thriving. Asian American/Pacific Islanders are now more likely to hire and retain employment and spur economic growth than other business owners.”

The White House Initiative, housed in the Department of Education, was spearheaded by the Clinton administration to address issues in health disparity, but has since broadened its charter to increase Asian American and Pacific Islander access to and participation in federal programs where they are underserved. The summit featured talks by politicians and policy wonks that shared tips for small business financing, how best to utilize tax credits and loans and what the emerging opportunities are in the realm of big data in clean energy and healthcare information technology. Also included were workshops on financing a start-up, government contracting, exporting, clean energy technology and healthcare IT.

There are currently more than two million Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders involved in small business and more than one million AAPI-owned firms in the United States. They represent 10 percent of the United States’ entrepreneurs and cumulatively bring in over $300 billion dollars in sales.

“If you were to take out a Blackberry, break it apart and see how many Asian-Americans were involved in producing it, you’d be amazed,” said Rep. Mike Honda (CA-15), a speaker at the afternoon portion of the event. “All of us have contributed to all the technology of this… The White House Initiative recognizes that the Asian American Diaspora is a resource that that government needs to tap into.”

Silicon Valley, where Asian Americans head about a third of start-ups, was the first stop on the White House Initiative’s national tour to discuss what the federal government is doing across different priority areas to promote opportunities for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

For small business owners like Van Leong, who owns an Internet marketing firm out of his home in Milpitas, the summit was a reassuring reminder that the government was working to address the problems, like loan contracts, that face AAPI in the business sector.

“As an Asian American, I’m glad to see that we’re a focus in the White House,” said Leong, who has a 20-year background in high tech. “For me, what this really showed was how different the economic situation now is from 10 years ago. There’s a different environment for getting money today, which the summit addressed, and the small business mentality is different. I think getting the word out is positive.”

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