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A recent study by the Kauffman Foundation reported that immigrants in America have almost double the average rate of entrepreneurship—launching businesses large and small across the country at a high frequency. Dream Across America (DreamxAmerica) is a social enterprise hoping to highlight and grow that entrepreneurial drive by “joining storytelling and impact investing to support immigrant entrepreneurs across America,” in the format of a docuseries.
From the team’s home base at the Harvard Innovation Labs, cofounder Andrew Leon Hanna spoke about DreamxAmerica’s vision:
“Through film, we’re sharing human stories of immigrant entrepreneurs in communities across America,” said Hanna. “And through an impact investment program co-created with these entrepreneurs, we‘re helping catalyze their small businesses to spark local economic growth.”
Hanna has maintained this passion as he and David Delaney Mayer, the other cofounder of DreamxAmerica, have developed the venture. Both Hanna and Mayer have immigration stories of family members that inspired them to pursue this work. Hanna is a first-generation Egyptian-American who is a Harvard Law student, Knight-Hennessy Scholar at Stanford and author of an upcoming book on refugee-entrepreneurs recently honored with the Financial Times Bracken-Bower Prize. Mayer is the grandson of a refugee from Germany, and a former Duke basketball player under Coach Mike Krzyzewski, and now, an award-winning independent filmmaker
On the storytelling front, the venture is partnering with Mayer’s production company, David Delaney Mayer Films, to produce its first mini-docuseries on North Carolina-based entrepreneurs. DreamxAmerica’s pilot initiative will be based in North Carolina: called “DreamxNC.” In their pilot initiative, the DreamxAmerica team follows immigrant entrepreneurs across the state of North Carolina and digs into how they became entrepreneurs and the impact their ventures have on the community.
The premiere episode focuses on a fashion designer from El Salvador named Caro Arias. Although working with textiles was her passion, Caro’s mother was not able to pursue her dream to be a designer in El Salvador. When conditions in the country forced Caro’s family to leave El Salvador, they immigrated to a small town in North Carolina, where Caro’s mom found work as a professional seamstress. As Caro grew up, her mom spent hours meticulously sharing her skillset at their North Carolina home, which allowed for Caro to develop her natural talent at working with textiles. Almost a decade later, Caro is using those same skills that she learned as a young girl in her role as founder and CEO of Descalza, a unique Latin-inspired clothing brand whose fabrics are woven by artisans and manufactured in North Carolina.
As Mayer films and produces, he is striving to capture the humanity of the immigrants involved. According to Mayer, “In the case of immigrants, the media’s narrative is often one-dimensional: immigrants are cast as either victims or villains.” In Mayer’s words, each episode of DreamxAmerica aims to be “an artful retelling of a moment in time in the life of each entrepreneur… In this way, we reveal the subtleties, the intimacies, and the nuances of the people and communities we feature.”
Much more than a docuseries, DreamxAmerica wants to build a relationship with the entrepreneurs that they work with that lasts long after the cameras are turned off and the film is edited. They plan to do this through a three-part “impact investment program” involving mentorship, digital marketing training and support, and capital investment. As DreamxAmerica expands, they will work with co-investment partners locally to help provide vital financing to the entrepreneurs that they work with.
Currently, the DreamxAmerica team (made up of Harvard Law students, filmmakers, and social entrepreneurs with experience across education, finance, and more) is working closely with its inaugural class of entrepreneurs to launch DreamxNC in 2019. They are working with Mayer’s production team in preparing conversations with major media distributors, and planning to release the pilot mini-series to national and global audiences.
Although this venture will start in North Carolina, the founders have their sights set on it eventually helping at a national level. According to Hanna, the ultimate aspiration is that “Dream Across America… both generate[s] thousands of jobs across the U.S.” and acts as a heartfelt reminder of our country’s common values of dignity, opportunity, and innovation.
March 11, 2019 at 01:46PM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs