Immigrant entrepreneurs are making significant contributions to the economy, but they face unique barriers to success. On Wednesday, April 6, Venture Connectors hosted a panel of immigrant business owners who have risen above a variety of challenges to reach unparalleled success in the Louisville area and beyond.

Panelists Sundeep “Sunny” Dronawat, Cedric Francois, M.D., and Van Tran shared how they capitalized on their diverse backgrounds, education and skills to establish thriving companies. They also shared how they overcame cultural and linguistic challenges to create jobs and achieve lasting financial viability in the Louisville business climate.

Sundeep Dronawat

Sundeep Dronawat

Dronawat is CEO of POS on Cloud, which is under letter of intent to be acquired by Payment Holdings of Dallas. He co-founded West Wind Power, which has developed a patented solar and wind energy device for off-grid green energy. He also is president of IT services company Samiteon LLC and has partnership interests in several local ventures, including Dataspruce, Bellwether Software and Pita Pit of Louisville.

A serial entrepreneur, Dronawat moved to Louisville in 1992 as a student at the University of Louisville, where he earned a doctorate in chemical engineering and an MBA in entrepreneurship. He began his career as director of IT for DEY Systems, then became vice president of ecommerce and chief technology officer for Integrity Cos., where he was the youngest executive.

Cedric Francois, M.D.

Cedric Francois, M.D.

Dr. Francois is co-founder, president and CEO of Apellis Pharmaceuticals. He also is co-founder of Potentia Pharmaceuticals, a private biotechnology company, where he has served as president and CEO since 2001. Dr. Francois received his medical degree from the University of Leuven in Belgium and his Ph.D. in physiology from the University of Louisville.

Following postgraduate training in pediatric and transplant surgery, Dr. Francois was a member of the research team that performed the first successful hand transplant in the United States, and was also a member of the Louisville face transplant team in the mid-2000s.

Van Tran

Van Tran

Tran is owner of Van Tran Insurance Agency, an affiliate of Allstate Insurance, and a Realtor with S.G. Priest Realtors. She also created the first Vietnamese news team to broadcast local stories on established Vietnamese language news network, SBTN-TV. She and one of her eight siblings came to the United States from Vietnam as refugees when they were children and relocated to Louisville with the help of Catholic Charities.

Tran graduated from the University of Louisville with a degree in information systems data processing and worked as a computer analyst at Humana Inc. and UPS before establishing her real estate practice in the heart of Louisville’s Vietnamese community. Today, Tran helps hundreds of immigrants from Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Burma find their dream homes and obtain insurance coverage.