When I first came to America from Uzbekistan in 2003, I had no English proficiency, few connections and $800 to my name. I was on an F-1 student visa and planned on staying just as long as it took me to make enough money to start a business back in my home country.
I never ended up leaving.
When I deplaned at LAX, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed in the face of the many opportunities I saw around me, I decided to chase the American dream instead. I worked odd jobs, some I never saw pay for. Slowly, I learned English and scraped by to make ends meet until I saw a business opportunity for myself in the dysfunction of the home services industry at the time.
Now, I’m the founder and CEO of a successful home services company. In the last six years, my company has grown from absolutely nothing to $20 million dollars, serving 200,000 households each year. I found my success here in America, but I like to say I owe that success to my immigrant background.
The reality is that immigrants truly do make for some of the most successful entrepreneurs. Take, for example, Elon Musk (from South Africa) or Arianna Huffington (from Greece). In fact, a large percentage of America’s leading entrepreneurs proudly have immigration in their history. And the research agrees: A recent Harvard Business School study showed that immigrants are indeed great entrepreneurs, with experts citing the “immigrant mindset” as a major asset they bring to companies. The same study showed a 31% increase in immigrant entrepreneurs between 1996 and 2006, and for good reason, since immigrant-started businesses are proven to grow at a faster rate and survive for longer when compared with business started by native U.S. residents.
Living in America and running a business I started from virtually nothing for the past few decades has made me keenly aware of the benefits and pitfalls of being an immigrant entrepreneur in this country. While we definitely do face our own particular set of struggles here, I believe the advantages outweigh these drawbacks. Here are three reasons I think immigrants make great entrepreneurs.
Immigrants Are Well Acquainted With Patience And Resilience
As an immigrant, patience and resilience come naturally to me. For some immigrants, the journey here is fairly simple: a plane or a train, for example. The real hardship starts when you are trying to make a life for yourself once you’re already in America. Starting with nothing and biding my time until I found an opportunity that would offer me success required as much restraint, flexibility and persistence as I could muster.
For other immigrants, the journey here requires unfathomable patience and resilience. Escaping dangerous home countries, crossing borders meant to be uncrossable, days upon days of travel — the hardships start before those immigrants even reach America, bolstering their ability to handle uncomfortable situations with grace and hardiness. Their patience and resilience have been tested and strengthened in ways that lend well to the uncertainties of entrepreneurship.
Immigrants Know The Value Of Money
Growing up in Uzbekistan, my family didn’t have much money. Nobody in my immediate vicinity had much money at their disposal. I learned quickly that money really meant something to us; our ability to survive and cover the family’s needs depended on our cash flow.
When I first came to America, I was thankful for every penny I made ends meet with. That first $800 could have been easy to burn through, but I had to make it last as long as it took to begin earning a living wage. I saw purchases in terms of needs and wants, and understood the depth of value that money had. It was the difference between me eating or not, surviving or not. This understanding was crucial to my business venture: I had a great eye for what I needed to spend money on from a business viability perspective, versus what I wanted to spend money on. Having money now, I still see purchases in terms of needs and wants.
Immigrants Have The Ability To Think Globally And Can Tap Into Other Cultures And Markets
I came to America as an immigrant, so I’m very familiar with what it means to enter a place whose culture, people and language are near-unrecognizable. I came here different than the natives around me. Even the immigrants who had been here many years before I arrived and had assimilated over time were difficult to relate to at first.
While it was uncomfortable in the beginning, it’s this feeling of otherness and the open-mindedness it encouraged that has served me well as an entrepreneur. I think globally in my personal and professional lives, and I have an appreciation for diverse people, which is something I try to reflect in my company’s hiring practices. It makes it easier to understand other cultures, providing my company with more market opportunities. My background has also given me international connections that have been vital to success: For example, we have call centers in Ukraine and the Philippines, and have contracted skilled software developers from Cuba, Ukraine and my home country.
Sure, immigrants make great entrepreneurs, but you may be wondering why all of this matters. When immigrants come to America from other countries, especially if they’re escaping major hardships or dangerous situations, it can be hard to recognize their full potential in this land of opportunity. The important thing to take away is that immigrants can absolutely make a name for themselves as entrepreneurs just as well as those native to the U.S. can. And, more than that, it’s vital that they do: Without immigrants in CEO, founder and C-suite positions, American businesses lose substantial diversity of cultures, experiences and voices — which is the same diversity that might make or break business success.