Bootstrap Business Owners

Innovation & Entrepreneurship

“The most successful entrepreneurs I know are optimistic. It’s part of the job description.”
– Caterina Fake


First-Generation Entrepreneurs Finding Success in the U.S.

By Gray Bennett | Photography by Hacker Medias

What does it take to pull yourself up by the bootstraps? For some, it takes moving to the United States and pursuing a path of entrepreneurship. Here, we spoke with four brilliant individuals who moved to the United States to start thriving businesses of their own. Read on to learn more about their motivation and the incredible work they do.


Tracy Duong

Zen Nail Spa

As the owner of Zen Nail Spa, Tracy Duong champions an inclusive workplace for people with similar backgrounds to her. Duong, having moved to the United States from Vietnam in 1993, learned firsthand the importance of creating an understanding and ethical work environment for first-generation immigrants. Her personal experiences fueled her passion for entrepreneurship and uplifting others, and she opened Zen Nail Spa in 2018.

Duong shares that business ownership has provided her with unique challenges to overcome. In addition to navigating work as a first-generation business owner, cultural differences have added another layer to the challenge. “Working in a new environment and culture can be challenging, especially with a language barrier,” she explains. “It’s not easy, but if you have a dream, you need to follow your path! The key is to never stop learning and growing.” Despite the learning curve, Duong continues to see each challenge as an opportunity to grow.

In the nail care industry for 25 years now, she has stayed motivated by her strong desire to lead others by example. The salon has allowed her to provide jobs for family members and other first-generation immigrants, and all the work they do reflects her standard of excellence. In addition to a tranquil and luxe atmosphere, the salon offers classic nail services such as manicures and pedicures, as well as nail enhancement services and facial waxing. Through it all, the Zen team exudes Duong’s passion for creating the best results for each client.

With a reputation for high-quality service and stunning results, it’s no surprise Zen Nail Spa continues to thrive. Duong expresses her thankfulness for all the opportunities the United States has provided her, and she says she is most proud of the community she has built through her business. “The community of people that support me and my business are what keeps me going,” she says. “We have been blessed with enough support to expand and grow into the salon we are today!”

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Khaled Albanna


For Khaled Albanna, entrepreneurship is an outlet for expressing himself and his love for cooking. He moved to the United States from Jordan in 2010, and during the COVID-19 outbreak in 2020, he and a couple of friends began conceptualizing plans for a new restaurant. Inspired by cuisine found in the Levant region – consisting of Syria, Jordan, Palestine, and Lebanon – Albanna wanted to give a voice to the culture and memories of his childhood. Calliope, a modern Levantine restaurant, officially opened in July of 2022.

As the first in his family to open a business in the United States, Albanna shares the experience “is exciting, but also a continuous pressure.” When it comes to challenges in business ownership, his approach is to find a balance between playing it safe and taking chances. Albanna views each challenge as an opportunity, always looking for new ways to improve and grow. “In business, there are always challenges,” he says. “To survive, you should always navigate them carefully, find solutions, learn from them, and learn when to take a risk.”

His motivation as an entrepreneur comes from his desire to build a lasting legacy for his family. As a young boy, his mother instilled in him a love for cooking, and through the restaurant, he preserves the passion and traditions he originally learned from her. As the restaurant continues to grow, his goal is to share the flavors of his Palestinian-Jordanian heritage with the next generation. Calliope’s namesake, meaning “the beautiful voice,” exemplifies Albanna’s mission to tell his story through cooking. He shares that his proudest moment has been witnessing the restaurant concept gain more popularity, locally and regionally.

Albanna expresses his thankfulness for the support of the community, family, and the Calliope team, including business partners Joi Mason and Raven Humphrey. “It was a group effort coming up with the concept and putting it together,” he says. “The inspiration was my journey since childhood, the food, the experiences, and memories. We wanted this to be a place that would speak about a culture’s stories through food and help break a barrier.”

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Karla Valdivieso


Karla Valdivieso, co-founder and CEO of Shappi, empowers Latin American consumers to obtain delivery of their United States products in a faster, more affordable, and reliable manner. Having moved to the United States from Ecuador in 2018, she experienced the challenges of international logistics firsthand, and it inspired her to start a business that would make a real difference. With a mission to provide Latin American consumers with an easier and more reliable delivery method, Shappi was founded in 2018.

Valdivieso says being a first-generation business owner in the United States is “both exhilarating and challenging.” Her business is disrupting a $358+ billion Latin American cross-border logistics market, so resilience and adaptability are key to staying ahead. While facing a multitude of challenges in a competitive market, she has also faced the challenge of balancing work and personal life. She describes the experience as “a journey filled with hard work, determination, and a deep sense of pride.”

To stay motivated, Valdivieso views her entrepreneurial journey as a way to create opportunities for others and make a positive impact. Shappi enables Latin American customers to order United States products and have them reliably delivered by verified travelers returning from the United States. Her business provides a pertinent solution for consumers who want to shop and ship United States products with ease, and she is most proud of the way Shappi’s impact has exceeded her expectations. As the business continues to grow, the Shappi team of 20 thrives on ingenuity and an openness to learning from successes and failures.

Today, Shappi’s unique “travelogistic” approach to delivery continues to help Latin American consumers receive United States deliveries all year round. Able to ship everything from shoes and perfumes to electronics of all kinds, Shappi’s streamlined delivery process is looking for ways to expand to other countries in 2024. “It’s been incredibly rewarding to see the positive impact we’ve made,” Valdivieso says. “Business ownership has taught me the value of perseverance, the importance of adaptability, and the power of the American dream.”

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Sujata Singh

Spice Trail

A passion for great food led Sujata Singh to the path of business ownership. She moved to the United States from India in 1998, and her desire for more “genuine food experiences” pushed her to explore entrepreneurship in the hospitality and food industry. Noticing a gap in the Chattanooga food scene, Singh dreamed of offering a fresh, expansive perspective on Indian cuisine. She decided to start hosting dinners in June 2019 to hone her vision, and in the fall of 2022, her restaurant Spice Trail officially opened.

As the first in her family to open a business in the hospitality and food industry, Singh has taken on a wide variety of roles to ensure her restaurant’s success. “I have done every job as a business owner,” she says. “I’ve been a dishwasher, cleaner, front desk person, chef, bookkeeper, social media manager, and everything in between. I do not get to clock in or out, which can be hard sometimes.” With high demands on her time and energy, Singh says the job requires patience, determination, and a constant willingness to learn something new.

Support from her family and community – as well as a genuine love for the work – keeps her motivated. As the restaurant has evolved and expanded in new ways, she shares that the amount of support from family members has been tremendous and much appreciated. Whether serving a sit-down lunch, hosting a cooking class, or catering a private event, hearing positive feedback from loved ones and the surrounding community makes all the hard work worth it. For Singh, it’s all about sharing the heart behind the food.

Her passion for Indian cuisine continues to motivate her today. “This project has been a labor of love and has morphed into different things as it has grown into its own, and it is not done growing,” she shares. “Indian food is very diverse, and what we at Spice Trail have on our ever-changing menu is a fraction of what the cuisine offers. Through that menu, we hope to show people that Indian food is beyond what people may believe.”

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