The NJIEAwards honored ten first-generation immigrant business leaders for their success in helping their local New Jersey communities thrive. The Awards were created to highlight the history and academic influence of New Jersey’s immigrant contributions to New Jersey communities throughout the state. The awards are coordinated by an ever-growing coalition of county and bi-national chambers of commerce, business and advocacy groups who work together to build awareness of the importance of the immigrant population to New Jersey’s economy and to the national economy as a whole.
According to Susan Coen, representing the New Jersey Historical Commission at last night’s event, “It is entirely fitting on this New Jersey’s 350th anniversary, that we should celebrate New Jersey’s preeminent status as a ‘continuing gateway’ for immigrants over the last three and a half centuries. When the state began to plan for this birthday celebration, three words rose to the surface which best described NJ’s 350 years: Innovation, Diversity and Liberty. If I had to design an event that would be the perfect combination of these three elements it would be this New Jersey Immigrant Entrepreneur awards which celebrate NJ’s innovative businesses, it’s ethnic diversity of entrepreneurs and its atmosphere of liberty which allows the diverse innovators the freedom to succeed.” At the Event, Susan presented a congratulatory letter from Governor Christie as well as a Joint Resolution of Recognition from the New jersey state Senate and Assembly.
“These awardees, originally from Ethiopia, Romania, Italy, Mexico, India, China. Lebanon, and Russia have a lot in common,” said Amy Hollander from AJC New Jersey (one of the founding partners of the event). “They have all brought their hard work, creativity, and ingenuity to our state, and created jobs, grown institutions, have made enormous contributions to their communities, paying their success forward in mentorship, leadership advocacy and expertise.”
Raj Sadhu received the Einstein Award for Innovation. Sadhu’s company, VESAGHealth, created a smart watch, inspired by Raj’s need to monitor his parent’s health remotely, a major concern for all immigrants and many people who are working away from their parents. During his acceptance speech Raj shared, “It is a proud moment for me as a New Jersey immigrant of Indian descent and US citizen, to accept this award. I came to this great land of opportunities, the United States of America in the year 1997 with great hope and expectations as any other immigrant and was not disappointed. The wonderful culture, education and environment of this land encouraged me to pursue my entrepreneurial instincts.”
Alfa Demmellash was awarded the David Sarnoff award for Advocacy and Community engagement. The co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of Rising Tide Capital, her organization provides training in business management and planning to underserved entrepreneurs who are mostly women, many of them immigrants. Thus far, they have 963 graduate entrepreneurs with over 400 businesses up and running. In her acceptance speech Alfa told the audience that her work was inspired by her own childhood saying, “When I was a two-year old child in Ethiopia, my mother had to flee the country to escape the terrible, murderous dictatorship of Mengistu Haile Mariam. She spent two years in a refugee camp in Kenya before making it to the United States, where she worked for nine years as a waitress and a seamstress before she was able to save up enough money to bring me to this country. I was 13 when I arrived in the United States. Like many of you, I did not speak a word of English upon my arrival. I had no idea at the time that within five years I would be attending Harvard University, or that eight years later I would be inspired by my mother’s late nights working as an entrepreneurial fashion designer and seamstress to co-found an organization dedicated to the success of entrepreneurs like her whose only dream is for a better life for their children and their community.”
The winner of the 2014 Immigrant Entrepreneur of the Year Awards was Mario Casabona, CEO and Founder of TechLaunch, a NJ’s Technology Accelerator. At the time it was founded in 2012 it was the only investor-led Accelerator in the State at that time, by the way. The beauty of TechLaunch is that it satisfies multiple goals at once: it helps aspiring entrepreneurs launch their dreams into reality; it exists as an exciting start-up on its own business model; it celebrates and stimulates the tech talent in our own eco-system in NJ; and it’s an organic delivery channel for the wealth of experience and wisdom that our Mentors bring to the table each and every day. Mario proudly shared with the audience that, “In two years TechLaunch has launched 26 Companies, mentored 65 Entrepreneurs and 55 Interns, created a network of over 130 Mentors, and collaborated with over 20 affiliates and Meetup organizations.”
Other Immigrant Entrpreneurs recognized during the Award ceremony were: Marcella Zuchovicki, President and CEO of Jalima & Associates who received the George Perrott Macculloch Award for Leadership; Grigore Burdea, President and Founder, Bright Cloud International Corp who received the Nicholas Marcalus Award for Sustainability; Rita Gurevich, Founder and President, SPHERE Technology who was awarded the Caspar Wistar Award for Growth. Honorable mentions were awarded to Lilie Donahue, President, Esmer, PS, Saurabh Abrol and Arun Abrol, Founder, President and CEO of the Wine Chateau, Shoufeng Li, CEO, Aucta Pharmaceuticals - A Novo Laboratories Company and Pierre Hage- Boutros, Owner of Pierre’s of South Brunswick.
The second annual awards are coordinated by a broad-based coalition of New Jersey chambers, associations and organizations; including AJC New Jersey, Asian Indian Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey, Diversity Dynamics, Einstein’s Alley, the Greater Monmouth Chamber of Commerce, the Intersect Fund, the MIDJersey Chamber of Commerce, the Morris County Chamber of Commerce, the New Jersey Chinese-American Chamber of Commerce, the New Jersey Main Street Alliance, the New Jersey Historical Commission, the Rothman Institute of Entrepreneurship at Fairleigh Dickinson University, the Statewide Hispanic Chambers of Commerce of New Jersey, the United Hispanic Chambers of Commerce of New Jersey, Welcome.us, and Wind of the Spirit.
The 2014 Awardees:
2014 NJ Immigrant Entrepreneur of the Year: Mario Casabona, Italy,
Founder and CEO, TechLaunch, Clifton, NJ
Albert Einstein Award for Innovation: Rajendra Sadhu, India
Founder and CEO, VESAG Health, Inc., North Brunswick, NJ
George Perrott Macculloch Award for Leadership: Marcela Zuchovicki, Argentina/Mexico
President and CEO of Jalima and Associates, Phillipsburg, NJ
Nicholas Marcalus Award for Sustainability: Grigore Burdea, Romania
President and Founder, Bright Cloud International Corp., Highland Park, NJ
Caspar Wistar Award for Growth: Rita Gurevich, Russia
Founder and President, SPHERE Technology, Hoboken, NJ
David Sarnoff Award for Advocacy and Community Engagement:
Alfa Demmellash, Ethiopia
CEO, Rising Tide Capital, Inc., Jersey City, NJ