Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Immigrant Entrepreneurs Can Help Grow Economy

Foreign-born entrepreneurs have consistently contributed to our economy, to innovation and to new job creation. But current immigration policies are jeopardizing our ability to attract and retain these talented and highly driven individuals, said Mark Heesen, president of the National Venture Capital Association.

This could not be more true than in the Pittsburgh region, where foreign-born entrepreneurs have started such success stories as Thar Technologies (Lalit Chordia), Compunetix (Giorgio Coraluppi) and Vivisimo (Raul Valdes-Perez and Jerome Pesenti).

"If the best talent can’t come here and stay, they will surely take their skills, ideas and companies elsewhere," Heesen said. "The game is ours to lose. To maintain our competitive edge, we have to remain a magnet for global talent. Shutting our borders to these entrepreneurs is counterproductive. The more of them we can attract, the more jobs for everyone."

According to “American Made: The Impact of Immigrant Entrepreneurs and Professionals on U.S. Competitiveness,” 25 percent of the venture-backed public companies that were established in the last 15 years were started by one or more immigrant founders, reaching 40 percent in the high-tech sector.

"Foreign-born workers willing to leave their home countries tend to be risk takers and have the drive to start a business," Heesen said.

"The aggregate market capitalization of these companies, which includes Intel, Google, Yahoo!, Sun Microsystems and eBay, exceeds $500 billion. The 'American Made' study found that of private, venture-backed start-up companies in the U.S., some 47 percent have immigrant founders. Just 10 years ago, such companies would not have been able to grow outside the U.S., but that is no longer the case.

"Foreign-born entrepreneurs have been particularly successful in the start-up community for a number of reasons. First, these individuals, by their immigrant status alone, tend to be risk takers. Leaving their home countries suggests a level of tenacity and drive that is conducive to starting a business. Many have scientific backgrounds, and the focus and ability to invent breakthrough products and services. We want them here as students, workers and company builders.

"While immigration policies have encouraged foreign-born nationals to get a higher education here, they have discouraged highly-skilled immigrants from staying here once they have their degrees. There are serious issues with the current H-1B visa program, but the limited number (65,000 a year) has prevented start-up companies from getting the talent they need to grow. At the same time, countries like China and India are aggressively nurturing their technology start-up ecosystems because they understand how America has grown its economy and want to do the same for themselves."

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