Immigrants face adversity in many areas. As an immigrant entrepreneur, one area may be that you struggle to find funding for your business. However, you do have options. Here’s what you need to know.
As an Immigrant Entrepreneur, You Need Funding Options that Work
There are some special things to think about when it comes to funding a business as an immigrant entrepreneur. For example, loans may require you have a Social Security number. The good news is, qualifying for permanent residency means you can apply for a Social Security number.
Another issue is the potential for a language barrier. Also, a lack of business credit or time in business can be a huge barrier to getting the business funding you need. This is because it affects fundability.
Immigrant Entrepreneur: Fundability
Fundability is the ability of your business to get funding. It is the same whether you are from this country originally or not. Still, building fundability could be a little more difficult for non-citizens.
The foundation of fundability is in how your business is set up. This is a first step you can take that should not be affected too much by immigrant status. Your business has to be set up to be a fundable entity separate from you, the owner. Here’s how you start.[
The first step is to get your business its own contact information. This should include phone number, address, and email address. That doesn’t mean you have to get a separate phone line. You don’t even need a separate location. You can run your business from wherever you want.
In fact, you can get a business phone number and fax number that will work over the internet instead of phone lines. In addition, you can use a virtual office for a business address.
You also need an EIN for your business. This is an identifying number for your business that works like a Social Security Number works for individuals. The process for getting an EIN is a little different for immigrant entrepreneurs. Specifically those without a Social Security Number or an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number. You cannot apply online. Instead, you have to fill out IRS Form SS-4. You can do so by phone, fax, or mail. This step is essential. Furthermore, the entire process can take some time. Do it sooner rather than later.
Incorporating your business as an LLC, S-corp, or corporation is necessary to fundability. It lends credence to your business as one that is legitimate. It also offers some protection from liability.
Business Bank Account
You need a dedicated business bank account. There are a few reasons for this. When you apply for funding as an immigrant entrepreneur, this will make your business look more like one that is standing on its own. It separates your business from you, the owner.
There’s more to it however. There are several types of funding you cannot get without a business bank account. Many lenders and credit cards want to see one with a minimum average balance. In addition, you cannot get a merchant account without a business account at a bank. That means, you cannot take credit card payments. Studies show consumers tend to spend more when they can pay by credit card.
For a business to be legitimate it has to have all of the necessary licenses it needs to run. If it doesn’t, warning bells are going to start ringing. Do the research you need to do to ensure you have all of the licenses necessary to legitimately run your business at the federal, state, and local levels.
These days, you do not exist if you do not have a website. However, if it appears to be unprofessional it will not bode well for you with consumers or potential lenders. Take the time and money necessary to have your website professionally designed and ensure it works well. Your business email should have the same URL as your business website.
Of course, much more goes into fundability. This is just the beginning. However, setting your business up to be fundable on the front end will give it the best possible start. It will make finding business funding a smoother process in the long-term.
For loans, consistent, positive personal credit history is important. If you do not have that, you will likely need a cosigner.
However, business credit building is not dependent on citizenship or residency. Starter vendors that you can use to start the process aren’t looking for Social Security numbers. This means, you can get your business credit profile started as an immigrant entrepreneur without a ton of hassle. That is, if you set up your business in the way described above.
How Do You Build a Business Credit History as an Immigrant Entrepreneur?
The first step is to get a D-U-N-S number. Then, you have to get accounts that will report to the business credit reporting agencies. These are the same steps that apply to all entrepreneurs, not just immigrants.
The D-U-N-S number is what D&B uses to get your company into their system. A D-U-N-S number plus payment experiences leads to a PAYDEX score. Of course, any employees of an American business must have authorization to work there. That means either citizenship or having an immigration status allowing a person to work.
These are companies that will extend net terms on invoices without a credit check. They typically have other eligibility requirements to help reduce risk on their end. These may include a number of things. For example:
- A minimum average balance in a dedicated business bank account
- A minimum amount of time in business
- Minimum annual revenue
Many require some combination of these and others.
These types of vendors will issue invoices with net 30, net 60, or net 90 terms. That just means you have either 30, 60, or 90 days to pay the balance. Once you do, these starter vendors will report your payment to the business credit reporting agencies. That includes Dun & Bradstreet, Experian, and Equifax. Most accounts either report to one or two of these agencies. The more of these types of accounts you can get reporting, the faster your business credit will grow. Then, you will be able to apply for more traditional business accounts. Store cards, fleet cards, and just regular business credit cards will all become options open to your business.
Immigrant Entrepreneur: Find the Funds
Once your business is set up to be fundable, and you have your D-U-N-S number, you can start to get funding. There are a few options. The ones that will work best in the beginning, before you have established business credit, are the ones that do not require a credit check. These include venture capital, angel investors, and crowdfunding.
Venture Capital and Angel Investments
If you do not mind giving up some of the equity in your businesses, venture capital could be an option. Venture capitalists are usually looking for exceptional companies. If your business is truly innovative you can try to get funds from Unshackled Ventures or One Way Ventures.
Angel investing can be formal, using and organizations set up specifically for that purpose. Alternatively, it can be informal funding from family and friends. Gust.com can be a great place to look for this type of financing as an immigrant entrepreneur.
Crowdfunding can be another good way to get funding. Remember, it’s not a guarantee however. Kickstarter allows permanent residents of several countries to run campaigns on its platform. They tend to be countries in North America, Europe, and Oceania. In Asia, currently the only eligible countries are Japan, Hong Kong, and Singapore.
Indiegogo is another option. The list of eligible countries is similar, but they also have an option for China. If your business is creative, consider Patreon. It’s unclear where they stand on citizenship, so you’ll have to directly contact someone there to get the word on your eligibility.
There are two different types of crowdfunding, equity crowdfunding and rewards-based crowdfunding. For equity crowdfunding, you will be offering equity in your business in return for funds. With rewards -based crowdfunding, you offer some other type of incentive. It could be anything from a sample product to a thank you card.
Immigrant Entrepreneur: Alternative Financing
Of course, there is no guarantee you will be able to meet all of your financial needs through crowdfunding, venture capital, angel investors, or any combination of those options. It is highly likely you will need something else. Traditional loans may be hard early on, especially if your credit isn’t great. Yet, there are other options.
Credit Line Hybrid
A credit line hybrid allows you to fund your business without putting up collateral, and you only pay back what you use.
You do need decent personal credit. However, it doesn’t have to be as high as a traditional lender would require. It should be at least 700. You can’t have any liens, judgments, bankruptcies or late payments either. Furthermore, in the past 6 months you should have less than 4 credit inquiries. You should have less than a 45% balance on all business and personal credit cards. It’s best if you have established business credit and personal credit.
If you do not meet the other requirements, it’s okay. You can take on a credit partner that does. Many business owners work with a friend or relative to fund their business. If a relative or a friend meets all of these requirements, they can partner with you to allow you to tap into their credit to access funding.
Benefits of a Credit Line Hybrid
Using a credit line hybrid has a lot of benefits. First, it is unsecured, meaning you do not have to have any collateral to put up. Next, the funding is “no-doc.” That means you don’t have to provide any bank statements or financials.
Not only that, but often you can get interest rates as low as 0% for the first few months, allowing you to put the savings back into your business.
The best part is you can use this type of financing to help build your business credit.
There are some alternative lenders that work better for immigrant entrepreneurs than others. For example, Lending Club offers business loans and does not appear to check citizenship or status. There is also Stilt. They only offer personal loans. But, they specialize in immigrant borrowers and borrowers holding visas. Personal loans aren’t the best way to fund a business, but if you need to bridge a gap left from other funding types, it could work.
Minimal eligibility criteria for a Stilt loan is you must have a physical presence in the United States. You also have to have an American bank account in your name, with an American address. If you have already set your business up to be fundable, these things are taken care of. You do not have to have a Social Security number to qualify.
Immigrant Entrepreneurs: Grants
There are grants available to immigrant entrepreneurs. One great source to help find them is Grant Watch. It has a search section devoted strictly to immigrants.
Other good sources to try are the Office of Refugee Resettlement and the Wilson-Fish program.
The Wilson-Fish alternative model is currently only available in 12 states and one single county. They include:
- North Dakota
- South Dakota
- and San Diego County, CA
These programs concentrate on early employment and immigrant self-sufficiency.
Immigrants who are members of a minority have more options. This includes women and Latinx entrepreneurs. They can qualify for grants and loans from the Minority Business Development Agency. Grants.gov is also a good source.
There is Funding Available for Immigrant Entrepreneurs
As an immigrant entrepreneur, you have options. While there are definitely challenges that are unique to you when looking for business funding, there is hope. Anyone can build fundability and business credit, and once you have that, funding is a breeze. Until then, these options can help you get started.
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