The Venture Center’s newest mentorship program makes history for Asian American and Pacific Islander entrepreneurs in Arkansas

Posted on May 3, 2024
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Josh Nguyen is forging a path for Asian American and Pacific Islander entrepreneurs.

Nguyen is the co-founder of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Achieve, a new and innovative Arkansas mentorship program produced by The Venture Center. The program connects emerging AAPI entrepreneurs (mentees) with experienced professionals (mentors), and is built on the heels of The Venture Center’s thriving VCWoman Achieve program, which has helped grow more than 50 women-owned businesses statewide.

Nguyen is the child of Vietnamese immigrants and grew up in Arkansas, where Asian American and Pacific Islander individuals make up less than 3% of the population. His connection to the Vietnamese community was primarily through the Catholic Church he attended in North Little Rock.

“Outside of that community, there weren’t many people that looked like me to look up to, learn from, or receive guidance from,” Nguyen said.

When he started college at the University of Central Arkansas, Nguyen enrolled as a pre-med student. At the time, he didn’t know that entrepreneurship could be a career path. In his experience, most people from the Vietnamese community around him worked as nail technicians or in restaurants. The other career options presented, according to Nguyen, were becoming a doctor or an engineer.

“When you come from an immigrant family, it’s all about security,” he said. “The medical field is very secure.”

When the health track didn’t work out for Nguyen, he switched to finance but continued to feel out of place.

“I had to just pick something,” Nguyen said. “So like most people who don’t know what they want to do in college, I picked marketing.”

In 2015, he began taking photos and posting on social media for a preschool he worked at part-time. In tandem with his marketing degree, this opened doors for Nguyen to eventually start his own portrait and wedding photography business and helped him land a spot as the digital marketing manager at The Venture Center.

The success of The Venture Center’s mentorship programs, coupled with encouragement from Mimi San Pedro, the chief strategy officer, and Arthur Orduña, the executive director—both of whom are Asian—gave Nguyen the push he needed to start AAPI Achieve, a program he wishes he had as a guide growing up. San Pedro also co-founded the program, adding further motivation for its launch.

In its inaugural year, the program accepted 10 mentees and 10 mentors from across Arkansas, representing eight different nationalities—Vietnamese, Filipino, Indian, Japanese, Indonesian, Laotian, Chinese, and Malaysian.

Being chosen as one of the inaugural mentees for the program was a huge honor for Bri Vongvilay.

“Having the opportunity to be surrounded by people who understand your cultural experiences is amazing,” Vongvilay said. “I think The Venture Center is doing something really big, that’ll make a huge impact in people’s lives.”

Vongvilay is the owner and founder of BriVong Media, a company specializing in content creation, social media management, and digital strategy. While Vongvilay is a new business owner, having just acquired her LLC in February of 2024, she isn’t new to media creation. She was gifted her first camera when she was 8, and has been shooting photo and video content for nearly a decade and half. 

Vongvilay is eager to grow beyond the camera, however. She’s confident that connecting with a mentor who is intentional about working in the AAPI Achieve program will help her grow professionally and personally. 

Nguyen points out that The Venture Center being an Entrepreneur Support Organization is what sets AAPI Achieve apart from being just a community group. By tapping into The Venture Center’s resources and network, he explained, Vongvilay and the other mentees can experience dynamic growth.

“A lot of these technical jobs—chiropractors, dentists, even in tech—you learn how to be a dentist, or you learn how to be a chiropractor, or you learn how to develop software,” Nguyen said. “Those schools don’t teach you how to be a business owner. And we recognize what business owners need in order to put food on the table.”

It’s clear that AAPI Achieve is just getting started. Programming for the inaugural cohort will take place over the next 12 months, covering topics from networking and finance to leadership and exit strategies. All speakers slated to address the cohort are also of Asian American or Pacific Islander descent. 

“There’s no other mentorship program like this in the state that targets the impact on AAPI entrepreneurs,” Nguyen said. “There’s certainly more work ahead and more people to connect with, but I believe this is a significant step forward, not just for entrepreneurship but also in making history in Arkansas.”

For more information about the AAPI Achieve program, click here.