Immigrants and billion-dollar start-ups …

According to a recent study published by the National Foundation for American Policy, here are some interesting facts about the relationship between immigration and some of the U.S.’ most successful startups:

  • 51% (44 of 87) of American startups currently valued at $1B or more were started by immigrants
  • these companies result in an average of 760 jobs each
  • nearly half of these companies have a founder (or co-founder) who came to the U.S. on a student visa.
  • California is the home base for most of these companies (followed by New York, Massachusetts and Illinois)
  • India is the source of the largest number of founders of billion-dollar startups

    Chobani yogurt founder Hamdi Ulukaya

3 thoughts on “Immigrants and billion-dollar start-ups …

  1. Fascinating study. So many great companies started by first generation immigrants. The study states:

    “New immigration restrictions would likely prevent many future cutting edge companies from being established in the United States. Based on an examination of the biographies of company founders, if S. 2394, a bill by Senators Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Jeff Sessions (R-AL), had been in effect over the past decade, few if any of the billion dollar startup companies with an immigrant founder would have been started in the United States.”

    This is an important issue that must be addressed and this article adds valuable information to the conversation by coming at the issue from the viewpoint of job creation and entrepreneurship.

    Most decisions involve a cost-benefit analysis. In this case, I would not want to think about a world without Space-X, Tesla, Solar City, Uber, Chobani, etc. No one would argue that the 44 immigrants profiled in this study do not add immensely to the US economy and that we should encourage and welcome them. However, the immigration question is largely about millions of people, not 44 individuals. I do not envy the decision makers that have to try to balance all these variables when trying to decide how to deal with illegal immigration and with the threats of terrorism while still welcoming people and adding to our nation of immigrants. Truly a complicated issue that is not easy to solve.

    I thought the study did a great job of outlining how these entrepreneurs drew from a can do attitude and had the dedication to see their ideas through to the end.

    My favorite line came from Noubar Afeyan, Co-Founder of MODERNA THERAPEUTICS:

    “What keeps you from innovating is being comfortable,” he said. “If you’re an immigrant, then you’re used to being out of your comfort zone.”

    Great point which every entrepreneur should keep in mind.


    Building off of Professor Hollis’ post, I dug deeper into one of the featured immigrant entrepreneurs, Brian Lee, an immigrant from Korea. The above link describes one of Lee’s first entrepreneurial endeavors: LegalZoom. I found this company to be rather thought-provoking, because generally when I think of entrepreneurship, I do not think of exciting innovations related to the legal field itself.

    LegalZoom is a website that connects consumers who need legal help to licensed attorneys. The idea behind LegalZoom was to make legal help more available to all American citizens, regardless of income. So far, 3.6 million customers have used LegalZoom to take care of their legal needs.

    The article mentions another way as to how Mr.Lee’s idea coincides with the law. As I imagine occurs with many new ideas, some citizens do not seem receptive of change, and do not agree with this new way of seeking legal help. In particular, established lawyers who are used to consumers reaching out in person to get the aid they seek are not happy that LegalZoom is now making law more accessible, at lower prices, and via the Internet, no less. LegalZoom has come under fire from lawsuits claiming that LegalZoom is engaged in the unauthorized practice of law.

    LegalZoom intersects with the law in many ways. First, it represents an entirely new way for people to access legal help. Second, this entrepreneurial idea has run into difficulties complying with the law, as established players in the legal field see LegalZoom as a threat and have filed suit against the company. It will be fascinating to continue to learn more about the relationship between law and entrepreneurial behavior.

  3. I think this is a very interesting study, and it makes total sense! Immigrants would be the ones to think outside the box and be willing to take the necessary risks to be entrepreneurs. Even their resilience can be something to be learned from around here.