AAPI Small Businesses Face Familiar, Unique Challenges

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The U.S. Chamber celebrates the Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) business community and its vital contributions to the U.S. economy.

To learn how the AAPI business community is like any other—and how it’s unique, we sat down with Chiling Tong, president and CEO of the National Asian & Pacific Islander American Chamber of Commerce & Entrepreneurship (National ACE).

The AAPI business community’s focus on entrepreneurship is one of the things that sets it apart, Tong says.  

“AAPIs have the highest rate of entrepreneurship in the country, at about 10 percent,” Tong says. “They see pursuing the American Dream as business success, and entrepreneurship is definitely on their minds.”

Tong adds that the AAPI business community stands out for its focus on science, tech, engineering and math (STEM) education, its high education rates overall (69% of AAPIs ages 25-54 have a bachelor’s degree), and its buying power ($1.6 trillion per year). She says that despite some well-known examples of business leaders—like Jensen Huang at NVIDIA and Lisa Su at AMD—many emerging AAPI leaders need further training to reach their full potential.   

“They still need more leadership training,” Tong says. “They work very diligently, but often run into other barriers when trying to get promoted or advance to a senior leadership role.”

AAPI businesses are involved in global trade including, not surprisingly, trade with the Indo-Pacific region.

“Many AAPI are recent immigrants, so they are very interested in global trade,” Tong says. “For nearly three million AAPI small business owners, having a sustainable partnership with a Pacific-bordering state is vital to their economic security.”

The AAPI business community also faces its challenges—with 40+ languages spoken and only 15 percent of AAPIs aged 65 and older speaking English at home —Tong says communication itself can be a problem.

“Sixty percent of AAPI business owners didn’t know about the Small Business Administration’s PPP loans during COVID,” Tong says.

Still, some small business challenges remain the same no matter who is running the company. First and foremost among the challenges?

“Access to capital is the number one issue for AAPI small businesses,” Tong says. “We have been working with the U.S. Small Business Administration [SBA], the U.S. Department of Commerce, and the White House Initiative on AANHPI to address this issue. We have been holding roundtables around the country with banks and local and state government officials to explain the issues and to understand the existing barriers to unlocking capital.”  

To assist small businesses, National ACE also coordinates the Capital Readiness Program, a multimillion-dollar effort to provide assistance to AAPI businesses looking to launch or grow. Successful applicants are assigned a coach who helps them find mentors, participate in pitch days, and find other resources.

“We work to support these entrepreneurs to ensure they have access to capital and capacity-building in order to launch, operate and scale their businesses,” Tong says.  

Looking ahead, Tong says AAPI small businesses are feeling good.  

“Seventy-five percent of AAPI businesses have an optimistic outlook on the future of business,” Tong says. “We feel very optimistic.”

About the authors

Thaddeus Swanek

Thaddeus Swanek

Thaddeus is a senior writer and editor with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s strategic communications team.

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