In honor of the tremendous contributions of immigrant entrepreneurs to the commonwealth, 252 business and community leaders gathered for the eighth annual Barry M. Portnoy Immigrant Entrepreneur Awards Benefit, including Yessy Feliz, of JP. The Immigrant Learning Center, Inc., held the event at the Royal Sonesta Boston on Tuesday, October 29, 2019.
Jay Ash, former secretary of housing and economic development and the current CEO of Massachusetts Competitive Partnership, returned as a featured speaker and remarked that this is his favorite event of the year. He noted that more than 20 percent of businesses and two-thirds of new business started in Massachusetts have an immigrant founder. On behalf of on behalf of himself, Governor Baker and the CEO’s of Massachusetts Competitive Partnership, Ash told the nominees, “not only how proud we are that you are here, but also how grateful we are that you continue to do what you do each and every day to make life better for your families, your employees, your community, state and country.”
This awards program is the only one to celebrate immigrant entrepreneurs in New England. It highlights the crucial contributions immigrants make to society, as reflected by The ILC Founder and CEO Diane Portnoy’s remark to the immigrant entrepreneurs present, “Thank you not only for joining us this evening, but for coming to this country and making us stronger.”
This year’s nominees were 38 entrepreneurs from 26 countries. More than 2,000 people in 39 communities, from Hyannis to Springfield, have jobs because of them. Winners were selected from four categories that represent four sectors where immigrants have an outsized impact: Neighborhood, Life Science, High-Tech and Growth. Although they created four very different businesses in different industries, they all shared a desire to have a positive impact on their community, employees, industry and the country.
Yessy Feliz is an immigrant from the Dominican Republic and the recipient of the 2019 Award for Neighborhood Business. In 2012, she founded doggy daycare, boarding and pet food retailer Tails, Inc., the first of its kind in her Jamaica Plain neighborhood. neighborhood. Feliz credited her success to the example offered by her parents. She gets her work ethic from her mother. After her father died, her mother gave up a promising teaching career to bring Feliz and her sister to the United States in search of the means to support them on her own. She is about to retire after working two jobs for the last 21 years to give her daughters a better life. Feliz gets her dedication to service from her father who is still remembered fondly in his home town 32 years after his death. She serves on the boards of the Hyde Jackson Square Main Street and the Hyde Park Pop Warner Cowboys, a volunteer sports group serving the youth of Hyde Park and Roslindale.
Feliz sees her business as not only a way to serve her customers but also to provide careers and economic development to the community. She currently has 16 difficult-to-employe people working at Tails. She says she prefers to hire people “that society thinks are not good enough, and I give them second chances.” She offers them opportunities to build their resumes with job experience, training and certifications while delivering excellent customer service. She thanked her employees, some of whom have been with her from the start. In reference to a serious illness she had that left her unable to work for six months, she said, “They have taken Tails as if it was their own, and they were growing Tails, when I couldn’t grow Tails. When I couldn’t get up from bed, when I couldn’t make decisions, they stepped in, and they did a better job than I did.” She says her goal is to “give up all my knowledge because at one point in my life I was given that, so the only thing I can do is give back.” In fact, she expects some of them her employees will be ready to start their own businesses soon, and she says “I will be supporting them 100 percent.”