The nonprofit US Together has helped more than 80 refugees and immigrants become entrepreneurs since 2018.
Some of these small businesses are easily recognizable with established storefronts. Others are virtual. Several of these entrepreneurs sell their wares at area farmers markets and flea markets.
It is unknown whether the US Together Microenterprise Development (MED) program, which provides technical and other assistance, will be able to create additional entrepreneurs. The program runs out of funding in the fall, and the nonprofit is currently applying for new funding.
Here is a look at some of the entrepreneurs the MED program has helped to create.
Jamal Musa, Tigist Gebremichael, Hiriyti Weldeslasie / Habesha
The restaurant Habesha is named after the word for Ethiopian and Eritrean people. Jamal Musa, wife Tigist Gebremichael, and friend Hiriyti Weldeslasie are just that. Musa and Weldeslasie came from Eritrea while Gebremichael hails from Ethiopia.
In 2019, they tested their cooking skills at markets in Shaker Heights, Lakewood, Westlake, and the Cleveland Flea. Habesha, their restaurant, now has a permanent location in Kamm’s Corners at 16860 Lorain Ave. in Cleveland. They serve authentic Ethiopian and Eritrean cuisine and host traditional coffee ceremonies. Their menu also includes vegan and vegetarian options.
Juvens Niyonzima / Media Platform
Juvens Niyonzima is from the Democratic Republic of Congo. He came to the U.S. in 2020 and works as a case manager for the U.S. Committee for Refugee and Immigrants (USCRI). He also works as a specimen processor in the phlebotomy laboratory at University Hospitals.
Niyonzima also has a strong interest in online media, and has taken classes at the Ohio Media School “to sharpen my media and technical skills,” he said. He wants to connect people through a media platform. He is currently in the planning stages of his business and has not yet decided on a name.
Niyonzima plans to offer a podcast as well as videography, graphic design, and print media services. He has sharpened his skills by offering his videography services for churches and small business owners as well as printing t-shirts.
“After working at USCRI and interacting with other refugees and immigrants, I became inspired to share immigrant voices and the immigration process, what life in America is like from an immigrant/refugee’s perspective,” he said. “That helped me specifically identify that I want to incorporate a podcast into my media platform, among other services.”
In order to make his business a success, he still needs to invest in a laptop that can accommodate the editing and storage needed as well as podcasting equipment. He also expects to upgrade the printer he uses for t-shirts.
Niyonzima is looking for mentors with the expertise he needs to launch his business.
“Any help or expertise that I could receive with marketing my services will be a tremendous help to me and my business, especially in the early stages,” he said. “Spreading the word for my podcast to increase views and listeners will really help the podcast sustain itself in addition to offering ads in each episode.”
Mohammad Sabir Safi / Sabir’s Gemstones
Mohammad Sabir Safi came to the U.S. from Afghanistan in 2020 to protect his family because of his previous work with the U.S. government. He wants to give his children a better opportunity—the youngest being born here in Cleveland. When he created Sabir’s Gemstones, he did it to support local markets in Afghanistan. He buys from locals and he still sends money back to the locals, who mine and cut the stones of their home country.
Safi also works with the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants and his crystals have appeared at local markets and Finders Keepers Corner, a consignment store in Berea.
Hanna Yendrys / Tasty Space
Hanna Yendrys moved to the U.S. from Ukraine about five years ago with her husband and family. It took her two years and classes from Cuyahoga Community College in order to learn enough English so she felt comfortable starting her bakery.
Yendrys is a connoisseur of cakes, a baker educated by her grandmother and inspired by European-style recipes. She is currently located in Parma, but takes her bakery all over Northeast Ohio. Visit her and Tasty Space on Instagram or Facebook.
Zia Nawaz Jawaz Khan / Bins & Wins, the Liquidation Store
Zia Nawaz Jawaz Khan worked for the U.S. Army in Afghanistan for 11 years. The 36-year-old father of five moved to the U.S. in October 2019 as a refugee from Afghanistan. Four of his children are school age and most of their grades reflect their hard work; they consistently earn A’s.
The construction civil engineer is actually in the middle of renovation work on his store Bins & Wins in Brook Park The idea is based on one he saw in Florida.
“I saw a discount bin store selling general merchandise at very low prices,” said Jawaz Khan. “This store had lots of customers, so after some research I decided to open a store of my own with a similar concept here in Ohio. The best thing about this kind of store is that I can help the custome rs in my community to save some money by purchasing great goods at discounted prices, all while making a living for myself and family.”
Jawaz Khan has some experience exporting used cars and other overstock merchandise to
The store still needs signage and Jawaz Khan wants to learn how to use social media to promote his store to the community. Bins & Wins will be located at Brookgate Shopping Center, 5860 Smith Road, Brook Park. The website is still under construction but will announce a grand opening soon.
Malati Tamang / Accessories by Malati
Malati Tamang came from Nepal in 2015 with her two sisters, father, and mother. After she took a sewing class at Esperanza Threads, she made a purse for her sister and saw how happy it made her. She wanted to bring this joy to others, and she likes to use floral patterns. She makes scrunchies, headbands, masks, wallets, and small bags as well as aprons and purses.
Ammar Hawanah / Hawanah’s Sweets and Kitchen
Ammar Hawanah came to the U.S. from Syria in 2016. He brought his wife and three children with him. He opened his pastry shop on 11730 Lorain Ave. in 2021 so Greater Cleveland could taste Middle Eastern sweets, and so other immigrants in the area had a taste of home.
Hawanah is not new to the restaurant business. His great-great-grandfather was in the food business, and Hawanah owned his own restaurant back in Syria. After leaving his home country, he worked as a chef in Jordan before coming to the U.S.
Hawanah’s Sweets and Kitchen serves a variety of desserts including sweet cheese rolls, baklava, knafeh, and Arabic ice cream. You can contact the store on their Facebook page.
Mohamad Almasri / Syrian Soul Bracelets
Mohamad Almasri came to Cleveland from Syria almost six years ago and he is so skilled in jewelry-making that his designs usually sell out within hours. He can be spotted at the Root Cafe in Lakewood with his jewelry business, Syrian Soul Bracelets. He has also been featured at ButterPear, a Cleveland marketplace for artisans from around the world. He can also be found on Facebook.
Christian Amuli / Christian Amuli Photography
Christian Amuli came from the Democratic Republic of Congo. After seeing how refugee and immigrant populations were struggling to afford quality photography services, Amuli started his business. He provides high-quality, affordable photography services to immigrants and refugees for weddings and engagements; fashion shoots; maternity and newborn shoots; family portraits; and graduation photos. He also offers photo editing.
Amuli has worked as a photographer for three years, but he is also going to nursing school. He works full time as a medical assistant and prides himself on his customer service skills.
Halyna Kurchuk and Mariia Serhiichuk / Two Busy Bees Cleaning
Halyna Kurchuk and Mariia Serhiichuk are refugees from Ukraine and have nearly 20 years of experience between the two of them from cleaning homes in Belgium. They recently came to the U.S. and spent two years cleaning homes before they started their own housekeeping business.
Check out their Facebook page where they frequently offer discounts and where clients can sign up online for cleaning appointments.