The International Landscape of Small Businesses

We often speak of the fact that small businesses are the engine that runs the U.S. economy. I am sure this comes as no shock to anyone, but we are not alone. After all, small businesses make up 99.7 percent of U.S employer firms and 64 percent of net new private-sector jobs. The international economic landscape is very similar to that of the U.S. The majority of economies worldwide are largely comprised of small businesses that drive economies (49 percent contribution to Global Value Add) and create jobs (63 percent of global employment).

It is this commonality that underscores why so many immigrants in the U.S. become entrepreneurs. An SBA study, published in May 2012, concluded that immigrants "have higher business ownership and formation rates than non-immigrants. Roughly one out of 10 immigrant workers owns a business." We see similar trends in our work at Accion.

And it's no surprise that a significant amount of the money earned by these small business owners is frequently sent back to family members still living in their countries of origin. According to the World Bank, in 2011 nearly $51.6 billion was sent in remittances from the U.S. This connection -- financial and cultural -- between small business owners here in the U.S. and internationally is both powerful and an opportunity to be leveraged.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton saw and capitalized on the opportunity, launching the State Department's diaspora initiative. And Accion, as a domestic and globally focused organization, was excited to join her and the State Department in the implementation of La Idea, one of State Department's diaspora programs.

La Idea promotes sustainable relationships, encouraging knowledge transfer between entrepreneurs in the U.S. and entrepreneurs in Latin America. In addition to providing free business education events and resources, La Idea facilitates networking and shared-learning among entrepreneurs across borders.

One of the most exciting components of La Idea is its international pitch competition, where business partnerships between U.S. and Latin American entrepreneurs compete for the opportunity to give their businesses international visibility, receive a rewarding package of business support services, and a $50,000 grant award from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

Outside of diaspora-focused programs, a great way to serve the international small business community is for us to continue providing educational opportunities and encourage knowledge transfer and the sharing of best practices. Borders in the international economy are becoming less and less distinguishable and with the rise of mobile technologies it is becoming much easier to deliver information. I am excited to hear from the winners of the La Idea Business Pitch Competition and look forward to our future involvement in programs that connect business owners in the U.S. with those in other parts of the world, as well as Accion's domestic and international operations.