“I believe so much in immigrant entrepreneurship,” says Millie Chu.
These words not only ring true for those she’s helped during her career as a guide and mentor for aspiring immigrant business owners—but also for herself and her family.
After all, Millie’s an immigrant too. Born in China, Millie Chu and her family emigrated to the U.S. when she was young. While growing up, she not only witnessed the struggles her family faced firsthand—but also the triumphs achieved through determination, grit and a little bit of luck.
She also uncovered how entrepreneurialism was often the key to a newcomer’s success. This realization ignited Millie’s passion to guide those with dreams for a better life here in America.
Today, Millie is the Vice President of Global Entrepreneurship and STEM Talent at Global Detroit. She also founded the A2 Business Labs and is a faculty affiliate at the University of Michigan’s William Davidson Institute. Within every role—and beyond—her mission is to support ambitious immigrants, cultivate diversity and encourage international inclusion within our workforce.
However, Millie’s parents weren’t willing to accept their fate. Ever ambitious, they decided to take the biggest risk of their lives, leave their home country and head to the U.S.
When Millie was four, her family emigrated to New York. Later, they finally settled in Michigan. “We had nothing much more than the clothes on our backs and a few dollars in our pockets,” remembers Millie.
To make ends meet, her father started off as a cab driver while her mother worked in a workshop. Eventually, her father put himself through culinary arts school. Over time, her parents saved enough to open their own restaurant.
“Through tenacity and perseverance, my parents built their first company within seven years,” Millie says. “[They created] hundreds of jobs throughout the course of their career.” As business owners, they not only improved the lives of themselves and their children, but also those of countless others in their own community.
Aside from watching her parents build a company, Millie also began learning the art of entrepreneurship as a translator. However, don’t picture her as a trained professional—she started out as an 11-year-old.
Without yet grasping English, Millie’s parents faced the challenge of conducting business in a foreign language. “My parents found a way, and sometimes that way was going to their daughter to do the translation,” Millie says. “Although I didn’t really know what I was translating or what it all meant, I learned about business along the way.”
“I want to help families that began like mine,” Millie says, “so they can have a better potential for success.”
An American Dream of Entrepreneurship
China didn’t always have the booming economy it boasts today. Until quite recently, even China’s current tech and manufacturing hubs held few opportunities for many of its citizens—including Millie Chu and her family.
As she grew up constantly inspired by her parent’s tireless work ethic—and soaking up valuable entrepreneurial knowledge—it’s little surprise that Millie wanted to tread down a similar path.
However, rather than replicate exactly what her parents did before her, Millie decided to take a slightly different route.
A Better Way Forward
Like Millie’s own family, it’s entirely possible to “make it in America” without mentorship, a clear pathway or a solid support system. That being said, imagine how many more people could find success if they had access to better resources?
After graduating with her MBA, Millie made it her mission to provide entrepreneurial-minded immigrants with the tools her own family never had.
“I wish that when my parents came here, they had someone that could mentor them through the process,” says Millie. “Someone to show them where to go, or where they can get an education. The things that would just help them lead a better life.”
Adjusting to life in a new country is hard. From cultural differences to language barriers, just living day-to-day creates serious obstacles. Then, there’s navigating the job market, gaining an education and the seemingly endless legalities tied to obtaining a visa.
It’s no surprise that many brilliant, highly-skilled international workers often give up and take their talents back home—even begrudgingly.
Instead, Millie wants those talented people to stay here. She and her teams create programs made to accelerate ambitious individuals who want to build their own businesses. They also assist in securing work visas—an incredibly important undertaking at a time when the number available has plummeted.
By targeting entrepreneurs, their goal is to do more than just secure legal employment opportunities for future business leaders. They want to boost the economy for everyone.
“The idea is that high-growth, advanced technology businesses would be able to attract more investment,” Millie says. “Then, they can launch their business here and also create new jobs.”
Just like how her parent’s restaurant hired hundreds of employees, a single entrepreneurial victory can quickly ripple to create better economies and stronger communities.