Helping New Americans Become Entrepreneurs

When conflict and disaster shatter lives and livelihoods, refugees and other new Americans need help to recover and gain control of their future. After fleeing their home country of Bhutan and spending 20 years in a refugee camp in Nepal, Kamal and Geeta Sharma relocated to Utah with their family in hopes of beginning a new, better life.

Like many refugees, the Sharma family had many talents to share with their new community - including culinary skills. Using their passion for traditional Bhutanese food, they started their own catering company, dreaming that one day they would open a restaurant. However, the barriers to establishing a brick-and-mortar location seemed insurmountable. When the Sharmas were accepted into the International Rescue Committee’s (IRC) Spice Kitchen Incubator (SKI), they were given the training and experience to realize their dream. The Sharmas now own Bhutan House in Sandy, which serves authentic Indian, Bhutanese, and Nepalese cuisine.

SKI is a comprehensive resource for immigrants, refugees, and other new Americans interested in starting their own food business. But this is unlike any other training program for food entrepreneurs. “By being part of the IRC, SKI is able to offer a bundled services approach with several different financial products and financial coaches for entrepreneurs, and culturally and linguistically accessible services and training,” says IRC Acting Executive Director, Natalie El-Deiry. 

When applicants are admitted to the program, they receive assistance with business plans including finances, operations, and marketing. Participants access the SKI commercial-grade kitchen facility at an affordable rate while building their business. Upon graduation, they move their business out of the incubator.

With their innovative approach to supporting refugee food entrepreneurs by including wrap-around services for their participants, SKI was a competitive applicant for the Community Foundation of Utah’s Social Investors Forum - a pitch competition for organizations moving the needle on social issues in Utah. In 2013, SKI was awarded a grant from the Social Investors Forum, which allowed them to move into their first kitchen, obtain needed equipment, and hire key staff members. 

SKI doesn’t just make a positive impact on its participants; the whole community benefits from the diverse and authentic food experiences provided by the program’s graduates. Through the Spice to Go program, anyone can make weekly pick-up orders from featured SKI entrepreneurs and enjoy new cuisine.

When conflict and disaster have shattered lives and livelihoods, the International Rescue Committee’s Spice Kitchen Incubator offers refugees and new Americans an opportunity to use their skills and passions to build a new life through building a business. - from food trucks to packaged sushi to brick-and-mortar restaurants. SKI makes a lasting difference in their lives by supporting their entrepreneurial ambitions and their quest toward the American Dream. 

Click here to order from Spice To Go. To learn more about the Social Investors Forum, click here.

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