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Immigrants as Entrepreneurs

Came across an interesting article in Inc Magazine a few months ago. (We know. We're late with the blog post. You forgive us, yes?) It outlined how, interestingly enough, the most entrepreneurial group in the United States comprises folks that are not born here. They are, in fact, immigrants.

From the article: Anurag Jain of Prepay Nation, Ruby Polanco of Ruby Makeup Academy, and Derek Cha of Sweetfrog are among the 21 percent of Inc. 500 CEOs who were born outside of the United States. IMAGE: Evan Kafka

From the article: Anurag Jain of Prepay Nation, Ruby Polanco of Ruby Makeup Academy, and Derek Cha of Sweetfrog are among the 21 percent of Inc. 500 CEOs who were born outside of the United States. IMAGE: Evan Kafka

As everyone and their mother (and grandmother...) knows, the United States has a deep history of attracting immigrants from all over the world. In 1587, the first English immigrants set foot on American territory in North Carolina. At this time, only Native Americans ("Indians." Right...) inhabited these lands. The first people who began to build what will be later the United States of America were immigrants.

Today, immigration is the subject of a nationwide political debate, and even the use of the language is interesting. While most people will refer to "uneducated" populations from less developed countries as "immigrants," it's interesting to note that more "educated" populations from, let's say, Western Europe tend to be called "ex-pats." Yeah. Don't think we didn't notice. But, we digress. The topic of immigration has always been polarizing, and today's political arena is no exception; it's always been a hot topic of debate. Between the 80’s and 90’s, the U.S. was the most attractive country for skilled and foreign scientists and engineers. Today, the U.S. makes immigration much more difficult.

Immigrant businesses are 60 percent more likely to export, a key factor to U.S. economic growth in recent years.
— Inc. Magazine

Though the economic ramifications can be debated ad nauseam, immigrants can help bolster the U.S. economy by creating companies, and in turn additional jobs, or they can simply take on the positions that the majority of current U.S. citizens don't want to occupy. And while other countries such as Canada, England, and Singapore are trying to attract and facilitate immigration by creating new visas, the U.S. is actively seeking to reduce the number of immigrants. Limitations on qualification categories–even varying from country to country–are put in place. Today Silicon Valley, CA, is arguably the best place to work for entrepreneurs that have immigrated to the United States. Here, they can establish companies in engineering, technology, or science. Between 1995 and 2005, over half of the businesses founders were immigrants. Over half! And when you think about the variety of hindering factors most immigrant families have to face when coming here, that number is even more surprising. Not surprisingly however, since 2005, the percentage of firms founded by immigrants has lowered, as a result of stricter immigration policies.

“I don’t believe in handouts from the government. But I believe that newer immigrants from poorer countries are hardworking. If we can responsibly help them come here, it’s a good thing for the country.”
— Derek Cha, Korean immigrant and founder of SweetFrog

But why are immigrants more apt to take the risk of setting up their businesses than native-born Americans? Perhaps because they already took the risk of leaving everything behind them, to start a new life in a new country. Immigrants, by nature, seek better opportunities for their future and for future generations. In addition, for several decades, the United States has positioned itself in the image of the American dream, a country where anything is possible, and everyone has a chance to success if they work hard.

Sadly, the truth is that it is always more difficult for immigrants, especially those with lower qualifications. Approximately 37% of immigrant business owners do not posses a high school diploma, and only 33% finished college. Ruby Polanco, founder of Ruby Makeup Academy is an immigrant from the Honduras. She moved to the US at the age of 12, and she said that school was "very hard on kids who didn't speak English." So, maybe it's not just the risk-taking mindset that has allowed immigrants to start their own businesses. Maybe it's also the fact that they've had to work harder than people U.S.-born. Derek Cha moved to the U.S. from South Korea. As a kid, while other children played, he helped his parents support the family by delivering newspapers and working at McDonald's. Today, Derek is CEO of sweetFrog, a yogurt franchise he founded 5 years ago. Now, they have over 335 stores spread across 25 states and international branches in the United Kingdom and the Dominican Republic.

What we've learned from our immigrant brethren is simple: work hard and take a chance. As we say in Tinseland: échale!

To the moon,
TINSEL