Uber has transformed local transportation in American cities and SpaceX aims to enable Americans to travel to Mars. Chobani is America’s favorite yogurt, while the latest fashion trends from Forever 21 shape the way we dress today. What do these innovative companies share in common? They were all founded by immigrant entrepreneurs.
In the Internet Trends 2017 report prepared by Mary Meeker of KPCB, she shared that 50 percent of the most highly valued technology companies were founded by first-generation immigrants, creating a total of over 48,000 jobs. Also, 60 percent of the most highly valued companies, including Apple, Google, Amazon and Facebook were founded by first- or second-generation Americans, creating a total of over 1.5 million jobs.
There is a popular belief that it is difficult to start a company in America as an immigrant. Beyond the challenge of getting a work visa, many aspiring entrepreneurs cite lack of network, language barriers and cultural differences as barriers to starting a company. However, in my conversations with many successful immigrant entrepreneurs, there are several key advantages to being a foreign-born entrepreneur. Here are some advantages I would like to urge aspiring entrepreneurs to consider.
1. You have cross-cultural experience you can leverage upon.
In an interview with Peter Arvai of Prezi, he cited his cross-cultural experiences of living in Sweden, Singapore, Japan, Hungary and America as a huge reason he was able to start Prezi, one of the most popular cloud-based presentation tool today used by over 75 million users globally. Experiencing different cultures allows foreign-born entrepreneurs to synthesize the uniqueness of different cultures and use them to their advantage, and in Arvai’s case, he was able to create a hugely successful global business.
2. Your hunger for success is your biggest advantage.
Immigrant entrepreneurs are used to working longer hours, pushing harder and reaching for the extra milestone. As a foreign-born entrepreneur, you have had to overcome various challenges and barriers to stay on in America, to assimilate locally, and to give up what you have already achieved in your home country. As a result, you have became stronger and more used to the ups and downs of entrepreneurs. Therefore, you will be more resilient and hungry to achieve success, and to complete what you have set out to do.
3. There are increasingly more funding resources available to immigrant entrepreneurs.
There are increasingly more resources available to immigrant entrepreneurs. Y Combinator, the widely successful incubator that has produced companies including Airbnb, Stripe, Dropbox and Reddit, has shared that it has funded startups from over 60 countries to date and always encourages them to move to Mountain View in California. Immigrant-focused venture capital funds such as Unshackled have also been emerging to focus on helping immigrant entrepreneurs overcome challenges that they face including visa issues, or hiring local employees. There are also increasingly more startup incubators focused on immigrant entrepreneurs including Blk 71 SF and Nordic Innovation House which are in support of Singaporean and Nordic entrepreneurs, respectively.
4. You can use your roots as a leverage for your business.
America is a melting pot of different culture that is open to diverse cultures. Therefore, many foreign-born entrepreneurs have been able to leverage their cultures, food and diverse background to start a successful business. Growing up with the thicker, strained yogurt in Turkey, Hamdi Ulukaya founded Chobani, as he believed that Americans would prefer the flavor of this yogurt to the more watery and sugary flavors available back in 2002. Phil Jaber credited his founding of Philz Coffee to growing up in Palestine where he became an entrepreneur at 8 years old, selling homemade Palestinian coffee to passersby from his family front yard.
5. There are increasing more opportunities for entrepreneurs to obtain a visa.
Other than the commonly known H-1B visas, there are an array of other visas suitable for entrepreneurs. Before President Barack Obama left office, he initiated the “startup visa” to allow foreign-born entrepreneurs to stay in America. Called the International Entrepreneurs Rule, the visa allows foreigners to apply for “parole status” to stay and build fast-growing startups in the U.S, and it will go into effect March 14, 2018 (It was initially supposed to launch on July 17, 2017, but it got pushed back by the Trump Administration). In addition, there is the O-1 visa, which is granted to individuals of extraordinary ability in the arts, sciences, education, business or athletics, and the L-1 visa, which is granted to intra-company transfers from a foreign country into the United States. Also, an innovative nonprofit called Global EIR has pushed for a new program to allow immigrant entrepreneurs to partner with local universities and have these institutions sponsor their visas.
Therefore, as you consider your next step to either start a business or to work for someone, please re-think the various advantages you can leverage. Conventional wisdom may suggest that it is better to take the safe route or even return to your home country to pursue your entrepreneurial dream, but before you choose that route, remember that you can readily tap upon the unique strengths that you possess.