What do Google, Intel, Yahoo, AT&T, and Goldman Sachs have in common? Aside from being iconic American companies that employ millions of workers globally, they are also all founded by foreign entrepreneurs.
In co-founding five companies in the U.S., I have been able to impact the lives of millions of people. Immigrant entrepreneurs have created some of the world’s most innovative and successful companies. In fact, more than half of America’s privately held companies that are valued at $1 billion or more have at least one immigrant co-founder.
A willingness to take risks and perseverance – characteristics ingrained in many immigrants by their life experiences – are important attributes for any entrepreneur to possess. Perhaps this is why immigrants in America are nearly twice as likely as natural-born citizens to start businesses.
My story took me from Israel to Australia to the U.S., and culminated in the realization of the American dream. My family left Israel for Australia when I was four years old. We were of modest means, but what I always had in abundance was unyielding support from my parents. They encouraged my curiosity, creativity and entrepreneurial spirit. The dream I conceived at a young age to make something meaningful from nothing was celebrated and nurtured by my parents.
Throughout my travels, I learned to harness the anxiety of feeling “different” in a new environment surrounded by people of an unfamiliar culture. I embraced the uniqueness of my own experiences and channeled that unease into a confidence that has served me well throughout my life and career.
The path of a foreign entrepreneur is often fraught with a great amount of uncertainty, risk, and yes, mistakes and setbacks. Successful entrepreneurs come from different and often unexpected backgrounds.
While America has greatly benefited from new ideas created by foreigners, the immigration policy currently in place doesn’t provide adequate access. Instead of encouraging foreign entrepreneurs to bring their ideas to the U.S., there is growing anxiety over what could happen if the new administration cuts back on H-1B visas. This is how approximately 85,000 immigrants come into the country each year.
I came to the U.S. on a visa similar to H-1B and quickly found that my diverse background was incredibly valuable. I always say that I have an attitude of an Israeli and the manners of an Australian – both have been beneficial in my life. They allowed me to function well within the traditional business environment as well as the more hectic startup environment.
My travels gave me a sense of fearlessness about the world, and the motivation to give back to those who need help the most. It’s my belief that for a business to be good, it needs to do two things: Improve people’s lives and support a meaningful give-back program. Through Cheeky, we have helped provide more than 10 million meals in the U.S. in two years. Through Yoobi, we have given school supplies to more than 2 million U.S. kids in two years.
We cannot afford to scale down on the number of visas offered. There needs to be a renewed effort to expand on the programs in place for foreign workers. Immigrants with a desire to start a new business and provide jobs to American workers should be encouraged to bring their dedication and hard work to the U.S. We should value the remarkable impact of foreign workers, and I’m proud to stand as a foreign entrepreneur and lead the next generation of global diversity in the American workplace.
– Ido Leffler is an Israel-born serial entrepreneur and angel investor.