Small-Business Ambassador
By Phaedra Hise

(FORTUNE Small Business) – Salvador Guzman, 46 Guzman Group of Mexican restaurants Nashville

I OPENED CAMINO REAL, MY first Mexican restaurant, in Franklin, Tenn., in 1991. Now I have 14 restaurants across the region, and I own the first Spanish-language radio station in the state.

I was a veterinarian in Mexico but could never bring in a satisfactory income. When the peso was devalued in the mid-1980s, interest rates on my business loans kept rising, from 32% to 90% a year. I came to the U.S. when a friend of mine in Chattanooga offered me a job as a busboy in a Mexican restaurant. I was planning to stay for two years and save enough to buy a house in Mexico. But when I noticed that the owner was two years younger than me, it turned around my way of thinking. I left and started my first restaurant with three partners and my savings of $18,000.

I was the first person from Degollado, Jalisco, to own a restaurant in the U.S. Now there are more than 100 restaurants scattered across the U.S. owned by people from my hometown. They became restaurant owners because they saw me doing it. Now they inspire others. Mexican immigrants are used to working hard.

Total amount of loans given by Acción USA, the country's largest microlender, through September 2006 $170 MILLION

Percentage of microloans given to members of ethnic minorities 89%

BIZ WITHOUT BORDERS Number of startups per 100,000 people

National average

Native-born Americans 280

Immigrants 350

SOURCE: Kauffman Foundation (

Number of self-employed immigrants

1.5 million (1995) to 2.4 million (2005)