Did you know that the Vietnamese language is the third most spoken language in the DFW area (after English and Spanish)? In 1970, the Vietnamese community in North Texas was only 1,500 residents, and currently the population has risen to over 110,000, making DFW the fourth largest Vietnamese community in the United States, behind Los Angeles, Houston, and San Jose.
The Vietnamese people, along with other Asian ethnicities, are extremely entrepreneurial. Asian Americans make up only 5.9% of population in DFW but own more than 15% of all businesses in the area! From innovative companies such as Luraco Technologies that owns over 43 patents, prominent Asian malls such as Asia Times Square and Ben Thanh Plaza, to the small mom and pop restaurants that have been around for decades such as Pho Pasteur and My Lan, the Vietnamese businesses community has made signification contributions to the North Texas economy for decades.
Despite its explosive growth and success in recent years, it isn’t all rainbows and sunshine. The Vietnamese entrepreneurial community in DFW also has its own unique challenges due to its history, culture, and demographics. During my career as a business advisor with the Tarrant Small Business Development Center, I worked with countless Vietnamese American small businesses and learned the common challenges that hold them back.
The first and biggest challenge is the language barrier. Unlike the native-born American population, more than half of the Vietnamese population are foreign born. As a matter of fact, only 44% of Vietnamese adults are proficient in English (see chart below). That fact alone comes with a lot of challenges for navigating life and business in the U.S. Many Vietnamese immigrated to the U.S at an older age in their life, where they already have a family, children, and countless responsibilities, not to mention the challenges of immigrating to a new country. So, the ability to go back to school and master English is a luxury and usually out of reach. Without English proficiency and due to the vast difference in cultures, many Vietnamese small businesses tend to shy from the mainstream culture and prefer to do business within their own communities.
In addition to the language barrier comes the issue of professional networks. Since Vietnamese owned small businesses tend to stay in their own communities, they are rarely seen at mainstream business events. Therefore, they miss out on countless government grants, contracts, business opportunities and resources that they could have won.
Finally, most Vietnamese American are frugal by nature, which is generally a great trait. Unfortunately, that trait is also present in how they run their business in unhealthy ways. I was shocked to learn many large size Vietnamese businesses I advised are still sole proprietorships because the business owners refused to incorporate due to the legal cost. Many of them don’t pay for digital marketing, which most of them thought was a waste of money until the pandemic happened in 2020!
Now that we have learned of the growth, contribution, successes, and challenges of Vietnamese entrepreneurship ecosystem in the DFW area, it’s time to address the opportunities. Most local and statewide entrepreneur supporting agencies still do not have Vietnamese speaking employees to reach out to this important ethnic group. When I was employed with the Tarrant SBDC, I learned that in its history of over 40 years, I was the first and only Vietnamese American business advisor in the state of Texas despite the huge need for help in the community. When I served as board director of Cancer Care Services, a nonprofit that helps cancer patients, again, I was the first and only board member in its history of over 50 years. And we all know that cancer doesn’t discriminate based on race and ethnicity.
It isn’t all doom and gloom. I have a great news that benefits the Vietnamese entrepreneurial community in DFW area… drum roll please. If you have never heard of Sparkyard, you need to familiarize yourself with that name now. Sparkyard is an initiative of The University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth (HSC) and supported by the City of Fort Worth and TCU that connects entrepreneurs to the right resource at the right time to help them launch and grow their company for free. Sparkyard partners with over 60 local resources such as the Tarrant SBDC, TechFW, U.S. Small Business Administration, Entrepreneurs’ Organization, etc. Sparkyard recently translated its website and resource directory to Vietnamese language. Yes, you heard that right, the very first and only entrepreneurial resource guide in Vietnamese language! You can get early access HERE.
I will be assisting Sparkyard to hold road shows at different cities in DFW that have dense Vietnamese population such as Arlington and Grand Prairie to introduce Sparkyard to our community. If you would like to come out, get to know Sparkyard and support us, you can sign up HERE.
Even though this is great news, it isn’t nearly enough to fill the gaps. So I am asking my fellow Vietnamese American business owners to show up at business and civic events to make your voice be heard, and entrepreneurship supporting organization to hire more employees who can speak the language to do the community outreach. As Ghandi said, “We must be the change we want to see.”
About the Author
Cathy Trinh was born in a house with no running water nor electricity and she is now an accomplished college professor, a multi-award business advisor and a millionaire. She saw how entrepreneurship and education have lifted herself, her family, and many others out of poverty and transformed their lives. That’s why her life’s calling is helping others to change their lives by starting a business or pursuing their education.