Immigrants play a key role in creating new, fast-growing companies, as evidenced by the prevalence of foreignborn
founders and key personnel in the nation's leading privately-held companies. Immigrants have started more
than half (44 of 87) of America's startup companies valued at $1 billion dollars or more and are key members of
management or product development teams in over 70 percent (62 of 87) of these companies. The research finds
that among the billion dollar startup companies, immigrant founders have created an average of approximately 760
jobs per company in the United States. The collective value of the 44 immigrant-founded companies is $168 billion,
which is close to half the value of the stock markets of Russia or Mexico.
The research involved conducting interviews and gathering information on the 87 U.S. startup companies valued at
over $1 billion (as of January 1, 2016) that have yet to become publicly traded on the U.S. stock market and are
tracked by The Wall Street Journal and Dow Jones VentureSource. The companies, all privately-held and with the
potential to become publicly traded on the stock market, are today each valued at $1 billion or more and have
received venture capital (equity) financing.
Among the key findings:
- The research finds that 51 percent, or 44 out of 87, of the country's $1 billion startup companies had at
least one immigrant founder. This illustrates the increasing importance and contributions of immigrants to
the U.S. economy. A 2006 study conducted with the National Venture Capital Association (NVCA) identified
an immigrant founder in 25 percent of venture-backed companies that became publicly traded between
1990 and 2005, while a 2013 NVCA study found immigrants started 33 percent of U.S. venture-backed
companies that became publicly traded between 2006 and 2012.
- This study is one of the first to examine the role immigrants play on the management or product
development teams in leading private companies in information technology, health, energy, financial
services, and other sectors. The research found 62 of the 87 companies, or 71 percent, had at least one
immigrant helping the company grow and innovate by filling a key management or product development
position. Chief technology officer, CEO and vice president of engineering are the most common positions
held by immigrants in these billion dollar startup companies.
- The billion dollar startup companies with an immigrant founder excel at job creation. The leading companies
for employment are SpaceX (4,000 employees), Mu Sigma (3,500 employees) and Palantir Technologies
(2,000 employees). Uber, co-founded by a Canadian immigrant, directly employs at least 900 people but reports having 162,037 "active drivers" (completed at least four trips) in the United States as of December 2014.
- Outstanding immigrant entrepreneurs profiled in the research include Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX;
Garrett Camp, co-founder of Uber; Noubar Afeyan, co-founder of Moderna Therapeutics and 37 other
companies, primarily through Flagship Ventures, the firm he heads; Jyoti Bansal, who waited 7 years for
his employment-based green card to start AppDynamics, which employs 900 people and provides the
equivalent of a 24/7 MRI for company websites; Amr Awadallah, co-founder of Cloudera, which allows
organizations in various fields to profit from their data; Michelle Zatlyn, co-founder of CloudFlare, which
uses the power of its global network to help websites with traffic and security; and other immigrant
- Companies with immigrant founders have produced a variety of useful products and services to benefit
U.S. consumers and make U.S. companies more productive. Uber has transformed travel in American
cities, while SpaceX aims to enable Americans to travel to Mars. Gusto makes it easier for employers to
administer payroll, while ZocDoc allows patients to find in-network neighborhood doctors and book
appointments online. Stripe, started by two Irish immigrant brothers, facilitates online payments for
businesses and their customers, while AppDynamics, Cloudera, CloudFlare, Tanium, Actifio, Mu Sigma
and others help U.S. companies to maintain strong information technology systems to compete in the global
marketplace. Sports fans enjoy playing fantasy sports at FanDuel and gamers relish the offerings of Razer.
- Entering the United States as an international student has shown to be a good avenue for starting
successful U.S. companies. Nearly one-quarter (20) of the 87 billion dollar U.S. startup companies – and
almost half of the companies with an immigrant founder – had a founder who first came to America as an
- With 14 entrepreneurs on the list, India was the leading country of origin for the immigrant founders of billion
dollar companies, followed by Canada and the United Kingdom with 8 each, Israel (7), Germany (4), China
(3), France (2), Ireland (2) and 12 other countries with one.
- California was the headquarters of 32 of the 44 immigrant-founded companies, followed by New York (6),
Massachusetts (4) and Illinois (2).
- Despite the achievements of these immigrants founders and their companies, a startup visa to enable
foreign nationals who start companies and create jobs would be an important addition to the U.S.
immigration system, since currently it can be difficult for foreign-born entrepreneurs to stay and grow their business due to the absence of a reliable immigration category. The low quota on H-1B temporary visas also can make it difficult for startup companies to hire new personnel in their fast-growing businesses.
- New immigration restrictions would likely prevent many future cutting edge companies from being
established in the United States. Based on an examination of the biographies of company founders, if S.
2394, a bill by Senators Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Jeff Sessions (R-AL), had been in effect over the past decade,
few if any of the billion dollar startup companies with an immigrant founder would have been started in the
United States. That measure would impose a variety of hurdles before any foreign national could be
employed by a U.S. company on an H-1B visa (typically the only practical way for a high-skilled foreign
national to work in America), including, in most cases, working at least 10 years abroad before obtaining a
visa in America.
A grant from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation funded the research for this NFAP paper. The contents of this
publication are solely the responsibility of the National Foundation for American Policy. LEARN MORE