V. Balasubramanian was just one recipient of the 2016 Immigrant Entrepreneur Awards, sponsored by the Statewide Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey, honoring first-generation immigrant business leaders in New Jersey. Other honorees include:
Immigrant Entrepreneur of the Year: Jose “Pepe” Garcia, who immigrated from Cuba in 1968 with his mother and brother, owns Maverick Building Services, which has more than 200 employees in Rutherford, New Jersey. The Garcias landed in Miami and then settled in Union City, where his mother worked three jobs to support her family. Garcia, who worked his way through Seton Hall University by cleaning buildings at night, realized the potential in cleaning services and started his business with a $10,000 investment from his mother.
David Sarnoff Award for Advocacy and Community Engagement: Marino Posso came to the United States to escape violence in Colombia, combined his associate degrees in graphic design and computer science with his experience working in construction early on in the United States to create Advertise IT, in Trenton.
At age 35 he left Colombia with his family after being robbed by policeman and a prosecutor telling him he would not be safe staying. “I had to leave everything behind; when we came here we had to face a new system, and a new language, and I had to reborn myself.”
After his job washing vehicles evaporated because his employer, a car dealer, was shut down for corruption, he started doing graphics for small businesses in Mercer County, eventually starting his own company creating logos, business cards, menus, signs, awning, vehicle lettering, and other graphics.
Believing it is important to give back to his community, Posso volunteers for the Trenton Council of Civic Associations and Latin American Legal defense and Education Fund of Princeton; in the past he served on the board of the Henry J. Austin Health Center, and he is founder and former president of the Latino Merchants Association of Mercer County. He looks forward next year to becoming a U.S. citizen.
George Perrott Macculloch Award for Leadership: Meiling Lee Kravarik, who in 1989 at age 27 founded Nextage M3 Realty in Edison, arrived from Hong Kong in New York City’s Chinatown at age 7. After working in a family restaurant in New York, her parents opened Meiling’s Shanghai Restaurant in suburban New Jersey, with Meiling serving as translator for all business transactions at age 10.
After graduating from Cornell University with a degree in hotel and business management, she joined Omni Hotels as a manager, first in Boston and later on Madison Avenue. Eventually she acquired a real estate license, renovated and expanded the restaurant, adding retail and office space, and buying up neighborhood buildings.
In 1989 she founded M-3 Realty. By 1999, grown from one person to more than 20, M-3 Realty built an office building. Today it has branches in Kendall Park and Worcester and is part of the national franchise company Nextage Realty International.
Special Award for Immigrant Accomplishment: Jianping Wang, president of Mercer County Community College in West Windsor, faced not only the traditional prejudices against girls, both as a child growing up and later as a young bride from her husband when she got into graduate school at Harvard University and he did not, but also an education constricted by propaganda and indoctrination.
Furthermore, during the Cultural Revolution her father was sent to a re-education camp for several years. After hearing English lessons broadcast on Voice of America, which was often jammed, Wang was determined to learn English.
She started in the English department at Hangzhou University at the bottom of her class, but graduated on top. She earned a master of arts at the prestigious Beijing University, where she was deeply involved in the movement for democracy and freedom of speech and the press in the late 1980s.
Fearing a government crackdown, she left in 1989, six months before the Tiananmen Square massacre. After graduating from Harvard with a master’s in education, Wang worked as a special assistant to the president at Roxbury Community College in Boston until 1998.
She then earned a doctorate in education at Fielding Graduate University in Santa Barbara, California, and worked as dean of arts and humanities at Westchester Community College in Valhalla, New York. In 2012 she left Westchester to become vice president of academic affairs at Ocean County College in Toms River. She became president of Mercer County Community College in June, 2015.
Caspar Wistar Award for Growth: Dennis Zhang, originally from China, founded 24-7 International in Pine Brook, which develops and distributes products to the travel goods industry.
Rising Star Entrepreneurial Award: Spoothi Kumar, originally from India, founded Hidden Grounds Coffee Shop in New Brunswick in 2013.
Nicolas Marcalus Award for Sustainability: Tavit O. Najarian, originally from Lebanon, founded Najarian Associates, a civil and environmental engineering firm in Eatontown.