Should Americans Keep The Door Open To Foreign Entrepreneurs Who Lack Investable Capital?

09/13/2016 09:20 am ET
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The economic greatness of this country was built on the ingenuity and creativeness of ordinary people. Many of these people came from countries outside the United States, or were at the most, second generation descendants of immigrants. This country could not have thrived without the minds, hard work, and creativity of these people, who came from the “outside.”

In a study commissioned by The Partnership for a New American Economy, they found out that over forty percent of companies in the Fortune 500 list were started either by immigrants or children of immigrants! These include most of the 10 most valuable brands in the world, such as Kraft, ConAgra, and more recently Google.

If you think this Partnership for a New American Economy is another of those nutty activist group, think again, because it is comprised of a coalition business leaders and United States governors, led by no less than New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

What about more recent developments that transcend the relatively older Fortune 500 profiles? INC, the influential and widely-read magazine focusing on new businesses and start-ups, revealed in their own survey, that just over one-half of new companies started in Silicon Valley between 1995, and 2005, were started by immigrants!

One would think that the United States government would go out of their way to help facilitate the continuation of this trend by easing rules regarding foreign investments, and investors through loosening up immigration rules such as the visa waiver program! Let’s look at recent examples of individual success stories to show how much immigrants should be valued in the country.

Faces of Success

INC. magazine, in another recent article, chronicled the successes of immigrants who entered the country with practically no money in their pockets, and yet, built up successful businesses, and considerable fortunes.

In 1978, Babak Hedayati arrived in the United States from Tehran, in chaotic Iran. At twelve years old, and not knowing English, he lived with his older brother near Silicon Valley in California. From practically zero money, and zero English language skills, he set up TapClicks, a technology company that grossed over $5 million in 2015.

Guido Kovalskys arrived as a student from Argentina in 1996, and after school, moved to California to work. After gaining experience in various technology companies, he set up Nearpod, an educational application that is now extensively distributed by Apple. Nearpod grossed over $3 million in 2015.

In 1997, Dheeraj Pandey arrived from Bihar, India in 2007, and arrived in Austin, Texas with a couple of suitcases and just $900 in his pocket. Now, his technology company, Nutanix, employs more than 2,000 people in 40 countries, and has filed for an initial public offering. Its 2015 revenues approached $250 million.

In 1998, Radek Maly arrived in the United States from Czechoslovakia via Greece, and started as a dishwasher in Atlanta, earning $3.50 an hour. From his meager savings he established Highland Project logistics, a freight company that grossed over $8 million in 2015.

Women Too!

Studies show that about one-third of entrepreneurial activity in the world, and the following three women are just a very small sample of the possibilities offered by women with a strong, pioneering nature.

Angela Romero, arrived from Colombia, started with nothing, and founded CentralCloseout.com, which sells liquidated health and beauty products to wholesalers, in 2010. Even today, while she encounters difficulties with suppliers who have a hard time dealing with a woman/immigrant combo, her company grossed over $4 million in 2015.

Nikki Barua arrived from India in the mid-90s to go on and establish BeyondCurious, which develops mobile marketing applications for companies. She is now the hard-driving CEO of the Los Angeles-based company. She moved to Pittsburgh in 1997, with $250 in her pocket and a head brimming with entrepreneurial ideas. In 2015, she was given the Supplier of the Year Award by the Southern California Minority Supplier Development Council, and was also named by the Asian/Pacific Islander American Chamber of Commerce & Entrepreneurship as its Entrepreneur of the Year.

For a bigger player, there is Eren Ozmen, who came to the United States from Turkey, in the early 1980’s to pursue her master’s degree. Together with her husband, they acquired Sierra Nevada Corporation, an electronic systems provider based near Las Vegas.

She is now personally worth close to a billion dollars. Ozmen is not only a hard-driving businesswoman, but her heart is also in the right place. She heartily supports a healthy work-life balance, within Sierra Nevada, establishing an on-site daycare facility for employees way back in 1991, before the idea was in business vogue.

Easing Entrepreneurs’ Entry Into The Country

The United States’ immigration policies change significantly depending on who occupies the White House, or which political party controls the U.S. Congress. Terrorism and the turmoil in the Middle East has also significantly affected, if not restricted America’s willingness to relax its admission of foreigners.

For example, the country’s Visa Waiver Program allows immigrants from just three dozen countries, to enter the United States without having to go through the usually lengthy and detailed process of applying for a visa to enter the United States. However, two-thirds of these countries are from Europe, with just a handful of countries from Africa and South America.

The VWP, however, only provides a ninety-day stay, without the option of extending it while the visitor is in the United States. While 90 days may be more than enough for a tourist, it provides very little time for a prospective investor or entrepreneur to assess business prospects in the country.

Money Talks

The United States offers to issue up to 10,000 visas annually to prospective investors who can bring in between $500,000 and $1 million into the country, and can even offer to grant permanent resident status to the investors. The eligibility criteria for these visas are rather stringent, and depending on what country the investor is residing in, it may take years before such a visa is approved. $500,000 is a lot of money for most people outside of the United States to come up with, especially for those in less-developed countries, so maybe a bit of change is in order.

Many of the foreign success stories come from young people who first enter the United States as students. While this is a highly laudable way for someone to immerse, and learn about the American way of business, maybe providing a shortcut for enterprising people is another way to introduce much-needed entrepreneurial brain power to the United States.

Getting More Entrepreneurs In The Country

Most participants in the VWP come into the country for tourist purposes, possibly just to visit Disneyland, or their relatives. With an increasingly shrinking world, it is high time that the United States, with a rapidly aging population, meld the features of the VWP, with that of the investor visa program, and offer lower “entrance” requirements. There continues to be a vast and growing pool of outstanding foreign minds that are waiting to be given the chance to prove that they can contribute significantly to the United States.

Talk to your representatives in Congress, or at the very least, spread the word, that new vitality and fresh ideas are requirements for the country’s continued growth and leadership in the global marketplace.

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