Dreaming across America

grayscale poster of "dream America" with participants in the background

DreamxAmerica entrepreneurs Caro Arias (from left), Caren Ochola, and Uli Bennowitz./Courtesy of DreamxAmerica

3 min read

Caren and her son Moses are Kenyan-born restaurant and cultural center owners filling stomachs and hearts in Durham, North Carolina. Uli is a German-raised, Peru-born microbrewer uniting and energizing the quiet coastal town of Grandy. And Caro is an El Salvador-born fashion designer sparking pride and style in Raleigh and Sanford.

These three immigrant entrepreneurs, hailing from across the globe and settling throughout North Carolina, now have something new in common: their stories and small businesses are being tied together through the pilot of a new social enterprise based at the Harvard Innovation Labs. The venture, called “Dream Across America” (DreamxAmerica) joins two seldom-paired elements — filmmaking and impact investing — to highlight and support immigrant entrepreneurs launching small businesses across the country. It is co-led by a team of Harvard Law students and award-winning filmmakers in North Carolina.

The team’s common motivator: to redefine and advance the American immigrant story. The co-founders are joined by intimate connections to America’s rich immigrant story: Andrew Leon Hanna, J.D. ’19 — a social entrepreneur, author, and Stanford Knight-Hennessy Scholar — is a first-generation Egyptian-American, and David Delaney Mayer — a Duke basketball player turned award-winning filmmaker — is the grandson of a refugee who immigrated from Germany after World War II.

The venture’s filmmaking side aims to create greater unity and mutual understanding, across political divisions. DreamxAmerica is partnering with David Delaney Mayer Films to produce a docuseries of intimate portraits of the entrepreneurs. As producer Matt Brondoli noted, “It’s been inspiring to watch these [entrepreneurs] work. We try to convey their energetic spirit in the details of our footage — it’s in the small moments where the most inspiring things are found.”

On the impact investing side, the goal is to partner with the featured entrepreneurs and enable small-business support. Kyrsten Lundh, J.D. ’19 talked about the aspiration: “These folks are already creating impactful legacies within their local communities. By facilitating opportunities for connection, support, and both social and financial investment, we want them to be empowered to cultivate their businesses and continue positively shaping those communities that rely on them.” As Adabelle U. Ekechukwu, J.D. ‘18 put it, “Being the daughter of two Nigerian immigrants who run their own small practices, I’ve witnessed how those deemed ‘other’ disproportionally struggle to find capital and support. [DreamxAmerica] presents an opportunity to help break down entry barriers that several immigrant entrepreneurs face in this country.”

Looking forward, DreamxAmerica will launch in 2020 with its pilot, “DreamxNC,” and already has a letter of intent from PBS’s North Carolina affiliate to distribute its premiere season. It then plans to expand across the country, featuring and supporting small businesses in a range of local communities. Harvard Law professor and DreamxAmerica advisor Esme Caramello, J.D. ’99 summarized the effort’s unique vision:

“A good story helps us to understand the world more deeply and with more nuance, priming us to act to promote justice. This project is extraordinary because it both brings us the stories that activate us and takes action itself.”