By: Alice Chin
I love being an entrepreneur who supports entrepreneurs. As the Co-founder and CEO of Your Other Half, I work every day to make small businesses happier places to work. Today, with the rise of entrepreneurship across the world, particularly of women-owned businesses, it’s an incredibly fertile and fun time to create a valuable offering and share it with the world. The tools that are available to us – the internet, incredible entrepreneurship communities, co-working spaces, incubators – make it more possible to become an entrepreneur than at any other time in history.
But in thinking about the history of entrepreneurship, and why this moment is particularly exciting, I started thinking about a history that was much closer to home – the history of entrepreneurship in my family. I’m proud to be a fourth-generation Asian-American entrepreneur, and a second-generation woman entrepreneur, and it’s an inheritance made sweeter by the fact that it is a choice for me, as it was not for so many of my relatives.
Asian entrepreneurship, particularly Chinese entrepreneurship, has a racially charged history in the United States, while also being a story of radical organization in the face of discrimination. Starting with the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882, Chinese immigration to the U.S. was halted or limited until the passage of the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965 removed racial quotas from immigration. In addition to immigration being limited, there was also severe anti-Asian sentiment in the U.S., particularly towards Chinese immigrants in the 19th century, known as “Yellow Peril.” This fear of people of Asian descent taking employment from white
people persisted in American culture throughout the first part of the 20th Century. As a result, Chinese-American immigrants organized, creating Chinatowns across the U.S. where people of Chinese descent could live, gather and maintain their culture, and within them Chinese family associations. Chinese family associations provided new immigrants from the same area of China or with the same surname resources to start their lives in the U.S., such as help with securing leases and apartments, providing community meals, and most importantly for my
family, start-up loans for businesses.
My great-grandfather, grandfather and father all owned typical Chinese-American businesses, beginning with my great-grandfather’s laundry in the 1950s. As one of the lucky families that was able to immigrate due to relatives already in the United States, my great-grandfather escaped Communism, moved to the U.S., and with the support of the Chin Family Association, began a laundry business. My grandfather joined him in 1953, and continued the family tradition of the Chinese laundry business, opening his own in the early 1960s, also with the support of the Chin Family Association. Their experience of entrepreneurship is massively different than
what I experience today – a business I can run remotely and location-independently, a choice made out of a desire for the type of contribution I want to make in the world and who I want to help. For my great-grandfather and grandfather, entrepreneurship was one of the few opportunities for employment in the U.S., and the greatest opportunity to earn enough money to pay for the immigration of their wives and children from China to be with them. Involving incredible sacrifice, they worked 363 days a year, taking off only Christmas and Chinese New
Year. “Chinese people work so hard,” my grandfather said when I asked him about his experiences with entrepreneurship. “Work every day, no air conditioning, no vacation. But we get to live in America, better than China.” But like entrepreneurship today, my grandfather innovated as he saw the market moving. When he realized men in his community were wearing fewer collared shirts as the 1960s progressed into the early 1970s, he changed his business to a Chinese restaurant. Through his work, he was able to bring his mother, wife and son from China to live in America, have five more children, and send all six of his children to college. To
him, the work was not a sacrifice, but rather an opportunity, available to him here in America when it wouldn’t have been anywhere else. His ability to create the future he wanted for himself remains an inspiration for me.
My parents were also entrepreneurs. My father, like his father, was supported by the Chin Family Association, and had a chain of Chinese restaurants in Northern New Jersey beginning in the 1980s. My mother, an early adopter of female entrepreneurship, began her journey of entrepreneurship with Edulink for Children, a company that taught computer literacy to preschool children in the early 1990s, and continued in education entrepreneurship by launching a Kumon Center franchise location later in the 1990s. As a result, I grew up seeing entrepreneurship, for all of its flaws and freedoms. I saw that my parents could coach a team or
volunteer during the day at school events, but also that every single night was a late night. I saw the financial struggle of making a business grow, and the frustrations when things didn’t go to plan. I saw that employing others was complicated and time-consuming, and that meeting the legal requirements put on businesses was onerous. But I also saw the joy. I saw the joy of creation, the pleasure of providing someone a good meal, the satisfaction of teaching a child to read. Most of all, I learned that businesses are an incredible tool for the owner’s personal development, forcing you to learn and grow in ways you couldn’t imagine possible without your business.
That inheritance of entrepreneurship is a gift from my family that makes me stronger in running my business, and more useful in serving my clients each and every day. So many women have not had the incredible example of watching a woman successfully run and own a business that I experienced with my mother in my childhood; that example makes me confident and powerful in my own work. Many entrepreneurs are unprepared for the struggle and sacrifice required to establish a business; the history and story of my great-grandfather, grandfather and father makes my journey feel a little bit easier. I am grateful for their example and their sacrifice, and for the privilege of being an entrepreneur whose life is dedicated to helping others live their entrepreneurial dream each day.
Alice W. Chin is the co-founder and CEO of Your Other Half, a human resources and operations firm that helps small business grow. After graduating from Barnard, Alice began her career in Human Resources at Newsweek and Allen & Overy, before co-founding Your Other Half with her husband in 2010. A fourth-generation entrepreneur, Alice is passionate improving the success rate of small businesses in the U.S., by partnering with founders to create happy, profit-generating teams. A firm believer in the importance of community service, Alice co-founded the Barnard Alumnae Mastermind Program, served as a member of the Alumnae Association of Barnard College’s Professional Leadership and Development Committee, mentored entrepreneurs at NYU’s Game Center Incubator and the American Corporate Partners Program, and is currently serving as a member of the PLDC sub-committee BEnet (Barnard Entrepreneur’s Network). She lives in northeast PA with her husband Phil, and their dog, Muggle. Alice loves connecting with entrepreneurs, leaders, and any community-oriented person and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.