Tech Growth Led to Success for Foreign-Born Entrepreneur
TONY COX, host:
And as Jonathan mentioned, one big growth area for immigrant businesses is Information Technology. IT is certainly a passion for business owner Abdi Ahmed. Born in Ethiopia, Abdi moved to the United States in 1983. He made Southern California his home and received a bachelors and masters degree in computer science.
He worked for Apple Computer. He then went on to launch his own computer programming company called NetServe Systems. And these days, the business generates an annual gross income of nearly half a million dollars. But before the success came the struggle, and plenty of it.
Here's Abdi Ahmed in his own words.
Mr. ABDI AHMED (Owner, NetServe Systems): You won't believe my very first job was actually working in a gas station. And I literally worked over a hundred hours a week. I didn't have a car, so I would get off of that job, get the bus, and then I will fall asleep, I would work probably about 4 p.m. to anytime about 8 or 9 or 10 a.m. next day.
I had a father who was very persistent in - from early childhood on explaining to me that the need for being educated, the need for being self-sufficient, the need for being an entrepreneur. So when I came here, I was single-mindedly focused on first and foremost being educated. There was one class that was available, and all the classes that I was interested in where actually filled up, so I took computer science by accident.
Then I started to fell in love, basically, with programming. Through computers, (unintelligible) Apple and the computer company, and so I went there. And I went ahead and talked to those people and they told me that there was no job. So I took the bus again next day and actually asked for the same job, and the young lady told me that, no, there was no job. and the third day, I came back. And I said, well, that was yesterday. Do you have any openings today?
And on my fourth day, she was frustrated with me, so she called the HR lady. Finally, she made a phone call to someone in the back, and the guy asked me to do some programming, some basic stuff. So I did that in five minutes or less. He asked me to come in, and actually offered me a job for $11 an hour. Think of it, I've only been in this country for about seven months at that point in time.
I was not content with working for somebody else. I've always thought maybe I can do better. I can actually work for myself, and I knew the ramifications of being self-employed and the headaches, but I still wanted to do that because it resonated with what my dad said in terms of wanting to be self-sufficient financially as well as professionally.
So in 1996, when I founded NetServe Systems, I was a consultant with the county of Orange doing some IT software engineering services. That was a one-man shop, very content, again, with what I was doing.
So in 2001-2002, decided to go ahead and actually hire people and take it to the next level. We've been honored as a Small Business of the Year for 2006 at the California Small Business Association. Again, this year, I've just received - actually, yesterday - a letter from an organization called GLAAACC, or Greater Los Angeles African-American Chamber of Commerce, and they've honored us as the African-American Business of the Year for the entire greater Los Angeles area.
And this country offers the most opportunity for anyone who wants to work and who wants to work hard. My country of origin would not offer me the opportunities that have been offered to me by this country. So immigrants, it doesn't really matter where they're from, are always aware of the fact that there is an opportunity in this country and that the more they work, the more likely they would succeed in their endeavors.
COX: Abdi Ahmed is the owner of NetServe Systems and a professor at Santa Ana College in Southern California.
Just ahead, the daily Roundtable.
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COX: This is NPR News.