Starting-up without a visa: the immigrant-owned startups scene in the U.S.


This year’s TechCrunch Disrupt SF was wrapped up with Layer winning the Disrupt Cup.

At this year’s TechCrunch Disrupt SF, Layer, a communication platform that help build messaging into applications, won the startup battlefield and took home the Disrupt Cup.

Layer’s founder, Tomaž Štolfa, is originally from Slovenia. After running Slovenian skype rival for years, he started his new venture in San Francisco. He’s far from the only startup founder on the TechCrunch battlefield that decides to begin a business in a place away from his home country. Among the 6 finalists for the competition, Regalii, a startup that aims to help immigrants send money home more easily, has a founder that’s a native to Dominican Republic. In fact, almost all founding members of Regalii are from Latin America, and their targeted consumers, too.

The appearance of immigrants in tech startups seems more than usual. According to a report by the Partnership for a New American Economy published in August last year, immigrants were responsible for 28 percent of U.S. businesses founded in 2011 while they only comprise 12.9 percent of the total population. In New York, immigrants are starting 42 percent of the new ventures while making up 22.2 percent of the population.

The entrepreneurial spirit that immigrants present not only gives themselves jobs but also creates jobs for Americans. The study also found that 1 in every 10 people employed at a privately-owned U.S. company works at an immigrant-owned firm. A study by Kauffman Foundation pointed out that, in 2012, immigrant-founded companies employed 560,000 workers and generated 63 billion dollars in sales.


Mark Zuckerberg speaks about immigration reform at this year’s Disrupt SF.

The immigrants-centered startup scene has called for reform for immigration law that will help keep the most talented foreign founders in the country. Engine Advocacy, a company that works with lawmakers to ensure a startup-friendly public policy had launched a campaign to push the immigration reform bill early this year. Mark Zuckerberg also formed a group named to advocate for a “startup visa” for foreign-born talents. He spoke out publicly about his support for a comprehensive immigration reform last week in a TechCrunch Disrupt interview, stating that his support for immigration goes even beyond the scale of highly skilled workers.A new round of “Startup Visa Act” was launched in January this year, which proposed that foreign-born entrepreneurs can be issued a new class of visa as long as they secured $100,000 investments and hired a certain amount of employees. The bill also suggests a larger quota for H1-B visas, which is very competitive and can only be issued to highly skilled workers. The proposed bill was passed by the U.S. Senate on June 27 but still uncertainties still remain as the decisions of the House will come at least several weeks from now.

[Photos via Flickr/Chijs and /jdlasica]


Risky Ideas: a step further toward your startup dream

How many times have we just let our thoughts slip away by telling ourselves “that’s too much work” or “that’s completely insane”?

Well, no ideas are impractical, as the team of Risky Ideas would tell us. Aiming to help “everyday thinkers take the next steps towards making their ideas a reality”, Risky Ideas organizes regular workshops to let people speak out about their ideas and take a step further toward real entrepreneurship.
ImageThis Thursday, Risky Ideas had the very first meeting at NYU-Poly in Brooklyn, which attracted around 20 like-minded people from all fields.

Interested in learning what startups look like before they really take off, I visited the site with my own startup idea: to start a business that will allow people to customize their mobile phone case.

So, here’s how Risky Ideas helps you to transfer your thoughts into “the next big thing”:

1. Brainstorm for ideas:

“There is always a solution to the problem,” says Alim Williams, founder and CEO of Risky Ideas on his personal web page. He put his trust in us by throwing us four problems to solve: 1) If you have a startup, how do you make money? 2) Six people are stuck in Antarctica with supplies for four days, what do you do to survive? 3) Zombies take over NYU-poly, how do you survive 4) How would you reinvent the iphone?

After teaming up, everyone has thirty seconds to draw a picture to solve the problem. The result? Iphone got a really fancy 3D screen; Antarcticans hunted penguins for food; Zombies were attracted to the sports center by brains from the bio lab and got frozen by nitrogen from the chemistry lab. Yes, every problem, no matter how ridiculous it sounds, can have a solution in less than five minutes.

Image2. Communicate your idea:

How simple can an idea be? Two sentences? Maybe one? How about two words?

While ideas themselves are important, it’s even more crucial for startup founders to understand how to express them. Risky Ideas therefore prepared an exercise for every one of us to boil down our idea from four sentences to a one liner, which should be both attractive and clear.

Arunwabh Singa, a first-year graduate student studying executive management of technology at NYU-poly, brought his idea to the table. Inspired by his unforgettable awful experience of dealing with the landlord, he is determined to create a website that will help students move in or move out of a new house. The one liner he got was “Skip the landlord”, a short phrase that will make our lives so much easier.

3. Sell your idea and build on it with feedback:Image

Once you have your thoughts ready, talk to people and build your ideas on their suggestions. This is when I truly realized how my ideas could become concrete and what problems I would be facing. I had a vague startup thought of selling U.S. consumers cheap mobile phone cases that they themselves can customize online. The feedback I got included not only what other aspects I should think of before starting the business, but also what I should start with when presenting my idea. For example, I wouldn’t think of giving a “why” answer to my audience before one staff member of Risky Ideas told me that I should present my idea like this: “Nowadays everyone has the same mobile phone, iphone, samsung…but everyone is unique, so why not have a phone case of your own design?”

Everyone knows feedback from your consumers is extremely important, so why not try to have that before you really take the plunge to start a business?

4. Assignment

Yes we got an assignment for the workshop! Everyone gets to start a facebook page that will have to get 30 “likes” before the next event, during which we will continue to build on our ideas.

“I would like to see how my idea will develop through the next session,” says Maya Luo, a graduate student studying integrated marketing at NYU. Maya proposed an idea for a website that will help people make decisions. “The best part I like about this event is that they really did convince you that your ideas can become real.”

[Photos by Yolanda Lu]