Event salutes new entrepreneurs
Immigrants lauded for role lifting economy
Suren Masumyan fled political unrest in Armenia four years ago, arriving in Swampscott with his wife and son.
Charles Mwangi emigrated from Kenya 24 years ago, arriving at Quincy College with ambitious dreams.
Masumyan got a job as a van driver for eight months. Mwangi transferred colleges, and worked a few odd jobs.
Eventually both took the entrepreneurial plunge — Mwangi in 2007, Masumyan in 2011.
Today, both are the proud owners of medical transportation companies, servicing doctor’s offices, hospitals, and other health care facilities around Greater Boston.
They hope their fleets of minivans and sedans turn into wheels of fortune.
“I am hoping to get more cars, so I can hire more people,” said Masumyan, 31, who started Surrimassini Inc. in Swampscott, where he lives with his wife and now two children.
“My ambition is to grow,” said Mwangi, 43, the owner of Comfort Care Resources Group, which recently moved to Malden from Woburn.
Their enterprising efforts were saluted Tuesday during the kickoff event for the state’s third annual Immigrant Entrepreneurship Month, which continues through Nov. 15.
Governor Deval Patrick attended the event, which was partly sponsored by the Immigrant Learning Center of Malden, and held at the regional Jewish Vocational Service center in Boston.
“He told me to keep going,” Masumyan, who studied law in Armenia, said of Patrick. “I was really excited. It was the first time I’d ever met the governor.”
“I’d met him before, and he remembered me,” Mwangi said.
“I think it’s important that he came, to build community, and recognize that people from all different countries are part of our economy.”
A recent study by the Immigrant Learning Center found that newcomers play a large role in the nation’s food, building services, and transportation industries.
“Those are three industries that are growing much faster than the general economy, where immigrants play big roles as entrepreneurs and workers,” said Karen Glover, spokeswoman for the center.
Mwangi, who also has made Malden his home, was among a handful of entrepreneurs featured in the study. His company has a diverse workforce of about 25 people, he said.
“The people who work for me, a good chunk of them are minorities,” he said. “And, then, of those people, probably half the people came here from somewhere else.”
He was an outreach worker for a human services agency when he spotted a niche opportunity, Mwangi said.
Scheduling rides to get people back and forth to their doctors wasn’t always easy. “It could be very frustrating, trying to get a ride for someone,” he said.
So he called his parents back in Kenya. They agreed to loan him $60,000, which he used to rent an office, buy a wheelchair-accessible van, and take out commercial insurance, he said.
“It was just me and my one vehicle,” Mwangi said. “I knew there was a need, but it was also very competitive.”
His company now has a fleet of 10 sedans and 14 vans, and recently signed a contract with Partners Healthcare, he said.
Annual revenues, the bulk of which come from Medicare and Medicaid, are more than $500,000, Mwangi said.
He has expanded into home-care services, providing certified nurse assistants, and is in the process of getting certified by Medicare to provide nurses.
Masumyan also is considering expansion into home care.
“There is a need for aides for the elderly and handicapped,” he said.
His fleet of five vehicles is made up of two handicapped-accessible vans and three minivans. Masumyan has four drivers, including himself.
A contract with a regional transportation authority is the company’s main source of revenue, which is just shy of $300,000 annually, he said.
Masumyan decided to start his own company after working as a driver for another transportation company. He signed up for business-counseling classes at Jewish Vocational Service.
“I already was familiar with the type of job it was,” he said.
He invested $6,000, a mix of his savings and a loan from a friend, to buy his first vehicles.
Masumyan is hoping for a smooth road ahead.
“I want to hire more people to work for me,” he said.