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Ngoc Lewis: Meet The Entrepreneur who Turns Adversity into Opportunity

Ngoc Lewis is the founder of the Portland Mask Company, a business exporting Vietnamese masks to the United States. The Portland Mask’s efforts midst trying times displays Lewis’s priority on geopolitics, stressing the business importance of international welfare and positive trade relations.  


While attending San Francisco State University, Lewis was inspired by an international business course to reorient her academic focus. Receiving her International Business degree in 2004, Lewis started working for non-profit membership services to learn the Bay area’s economy and promote foreign trade. She analyzed software and trade intelligence to understand import, export, and tariff duty compliance using company data. With her newfound experience in trade relations, Lewis founded the Portland Mask Company, an import business tied to her homeland of Vietnam, where the United States’ COVID-19 troubles were eased by Lewis’s acute trade acumen

Lewis formed the Portland Mask Company when noticing the U.S. market’s increasing mask demand. She reached out to LinkedIn contacts, spoke with her connections in Vietnam, and negotiated prices to find the optimal method of importing masks. With her research being backed by a keen sense of international trade, Lewis was soon confident in surpassing the formalities of overseas mask shipment; however, she recognized the risk factors of international trade, be it the uncertain quality or supplier communication. Acknowledging the risks, Lewis ordered from four different suppliers, market-tested the products by selling them for free, and eventually drove in customer traffic. Lewis gained vendor trust through frequent purchases, building a trusting relationship that enabled her to fashion the masks to her liking. While Lewis’s social skills and trading market expertise proved useful, having an on-site agent was crucial as well, helping to ensure the highest quality products for the lowest prices. In her continued lead of the company, Lewis still faces challenges in digital advertising and search engine optimization, with the Portland Mask Company’s smaller scale competing with big-name brands; though, with just the proper funds, Lewis would be assured in raising brand awareness and increasing sales.


When asked for advice to give future entrepreneurs, Lewis advised to make good connections, network, and have reputable peers able to give you good referrals. She touts being an entrepreneur as a fruitful career path, for one gets to learn widely applicable skills, such as marketing, managing, and financial planning. Lewis also advises that identifying the market need is more important than inventing a product that’s considered “fancy,” where prioritizing creativity and marketing tactics leads to greater success. When asked what’s looked for in future employees, Lewis says someone willing to learn, get their hands dirty, and have resolve in the face of failure is highly sought for. She acknowledges that success is never immediate, but feels the quality of perseverance nearly guarantees it. Lewis knows rejection and revenue difficulties are cornerstones for growing a business, but, when faced with adversity, she reminds herself of a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt: You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face.” In Lewis embodying the quote, the Portland Mask Company has been able to donate 750 masks to school children since its founding, making a landmark impression on both Lewis’s community and US-Vietnam trade relations as whole.


Lewis’s entrepreneurial journey best shows the importance of experience and quality connections. In tying together her Vietnam and United States connections, Lewis made optimal use of both her work experience and relationships to secure not only her company but also the safety of her community. By establishing The Portland Mask Company, Lewis was able to realize her dream job of trade relations, a feat made only possible with her seasoned experience and a will to better the world around here.