The Common Thread Among $1 Billion+ Startups: Immigrants.

  • By: joannafurlong
  • Posted: February 7, 2017

Are immigrants the key to billion-dollar businesses? If you look at the startup economy, you’d think so.

The facts say that innovation is driven by thinking in new ways; approaching problems through an entirely different lens (ones we weren’t even aware existed). It’s about pushing boundaries and considering ideas you never thought possible. Innovation takes discomfort. It takes faith. It takes many voices, rainbows of diversity; it takes cultural input gained from living in other cultures—not just pretending to know what the outside world is all about. This isn’t speculation; it’s science.

Immigration to America

Let’s pretend for a second that the inverse is true: that innovation is sparked by a room full of people who all look alike. They all come from the same country, many from the same city. Let’s imagine most of them are white and most of them are men. What next-generation, cutting edge stuff is going to erupt from that sort of team?

Innovation, immigration and entrepreneurship are intertwined

A brief look at the facts surrounding innovation and entrepreneurship—and American’s long love affair (*ahem* blazing success!) with immigrants. There’s something magical about Silicon Valley’s startup unicorns—these billion-dollar powerhouse businesses that have changed the way we live our lives, approach our daily problems and think about the future. And it’s not hocus pocus, it’s immigrants.

Here’s what we know:

  • Half of America’s $1 Billion startups have at least one immigrant co-founder.
  • Immigrants play key roles in product development teams and management at a whopping 70% of these $1 Billion+ companies.
  • These companies are taking the lead in mega job creation for the U.S. by hiring thousands of employees at each company.
  • It starts with education. Nearly a quarter of these founders came to the U.S. to study.
  • India is the leading country of origin

And, we meant what we said when we say it’s about science. Diversity and inclusion, there’s a science to it, and it’s all quantifiable. From Scientific American:

“Diversity, it turns out, goes to the heart of how to do research and innovation effectively. In the scientific literature, it is clear that diversity speaks directly to the quality and effectiveness of teams. …when we have to work with people who are not like ourselves, we tend to prepare more thoroughly and work harder to marshal our arguments, and we do better work as a result. Diversity is beneficial for teams precisely because we react differently to people who are different from us. If the end goal is excellence, diversity is an essential ingredient.”

Here’s a sampling of who we’re talking about

  • Michelle Zatlyn, co-founder, CloudFlare
  • Elon Musk, founder, SpaceX & Tesla
  • AppDynamics CEO and founder Jyoti Bansal (he had to wait 7 years for his Visa)
  • Sergey Brin, Google
  • Pierre Omidyar, eBay
  • Jerry Yang, Yahoo
  • Amr Awadallah, Cloudera


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