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The value of being an immigrant startup founder

You pack your things with your belongings and hopes and you are ready to travel to another country to live a better life. The American dream for a lot of immigrants has meant being free and able to start their own business.

According to a 2016 report from the New American Economy, immigrants represent a 13 % of the United States population and a 20.6% of the country’s entrepreneurs. This research also shows that 100 companies on the Fortune 500 list have been founded or co-founded by immigrants. The same year, the National Immigration Forum found that immigrant-owned businesses employ more than 19 million people and generate $4.8 trillion in revenue.

50 out of 91 of the country’s $1 billion startup companies (55%) have at least one immigrant founder as of 2018, has found the National Foundation for American Policy. Stuart Anderson, senior Contributor to Forbes and one of the conducting leaders of this research explains that the collective value of these 50 immigrant-founded companies is $248 billion and they create an average of more than 1,200 jobs per company, the vast majority in the U.S. Not only that, but 75 of the 91 companies (82%) have at least one immigrant making the company grow by filling key management or product development positions.

More than half of unicorns in the U.S. today have come from entrepreneurs who were born outside the U.S, according to Niko Bonatsos, contributor to TechCrunch and managing director at General Catalyst Partners. Immigrants are almost twice as likely as native-born Americans to become entrepreneurs, according to the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.

But the truth is that an immigrant must fight much more to achieve the same as a national citizen. For Bonatsos, founders who have graduated in another country have a hard time trying to establish their own reputation and attract VC attention. They can also have difficulties in learning and speaking the language.

“Being an immigrant has allowed me to see the flipside and the other side of the coin. Going to another country has brought me  immense  opportunities  but also, I  have  felt  the  lack  of inclusivity.  I have been  challenged  everyday:  funny  looks,  being  looked  down,  smirks  for  my accent…” says baMa’s CEO, Maria Maso.

On the brighter side, according to the journalist Nina Roberts, the main benefit of being an immigrant founder is “having global connections and perhaps fluency in at least two languages and cultures.” In addition, they can be more “culturally fluid,” have an open mind, know how a foreign startup ecosystem works and make quick assessment of potential investments. For Bonatsos, immigrant founders tend to “develop empathy and a deep appreciation for how others live” and “have a worldview that helps them think outside the box, challenge the status quo and stand out in a new country.”

All research makes a clear and outstanding point: without immigrants allowed in the country, there will be fewer startups, jobs and major industries. Immigrants are necessary for top American ecosystems to expand. Covid-19 has created a borderless VC networking environment from where immigrants should take advantage.

As baMa’s Advisory Board Member, Arnobio Morelix says, “international talent has fuelled the U.S.’s rise as the global hub for technological innovation and losing this would eliminate opportunities of fostering the next Google, Tesla or SpaceX.

“The U.S. is a young country with a lot of diversity and that is a big asset that we should not overlook. We need to capitalize diversity through inclusion which will make us more competitive worldwide”- concludes Maria Maso.

About baMa: Passionate about innovation, diversity, and inclusion business angel Minority association (baMa) bridges the investment gap in minority-led startups or startups by targeting minority-driven markets through diverse investments and education.

Catherine Carey Arribas baMa Content Manager

February 2021

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