Immigrant Edge: 9 Wildly Successful Entrepreneurs
The United States has always been a nation of immigrants – and of entrepreneurs. The relatively recent arrivals featured in this slideshow combine the two attributes. From countries as diverse as Great Britain, Pakistan, Haiti and Israel, among others, they’ve brought their skills and know-how to the U.S., building successful companies and expanding the definition of what it means to be an American.
Co-founder of iRobot, which went public in 2005. Now she is founder of CyPhyWorks, an early-stage robotics company.
Country of origin: Great Britain
I like to say I’m American by choice. I decided to get my U.S. citizenship at 22. I wanted to be an American because this is a country where risks are rewarded.
I remember when I first saw Star Wars. R2D2 stole the show for me. He was more just than a machine. I wanted to build something like him. My iRobot co-founders and I concentrated on practical robots that people could use. We put our robotic vacuum, Roomba, and the PackBot, a bomb-clearing military robot, on the market in 2002. I was able to fulfill my dreams to build robots in this country--and I’ve still got my R2D2 to work on.
CEO, PureFormulas.com, an online retailer of health and wellness products with $19 million in revenues.
Country of origin: Cuba
Living in Cuba, you learn to be resourceful. There was no freedom--even buying a car was done through the government. Pretending to like the system was hard, and my parents struggled. When I came to Miami, I wanted to earn a decent living. I started a website to sell pet and veterinary supplies. Then I wanted to sell vitamins and supplements for people. I do that now with PureFormulas. If I had stayed in Cuba, I wouldn’t have had the same opportunities. Looking at my successful business and children, who can enjoy freedom and not worry, makes me happy every single day.
Founder, CEO, Cheezburger Inc.
Country of origin: South Korea
I shared a one-bedroom apartment with my parents when I arrived in the United States, but didn’t have a thick accent or the external trappings that many other immigrants face. I think it would very difficult to start Cheezburger in South Korea. With language comes cultural barriers, and achieving the same humor would be a challenge. There also isn’t a vibrant enough economy there to support an ad-supported business like ours.
CEO and co-founder of Flatiron Media, an online ad agency with $10 million in revenues
Country of origin: Hong Kong
My dad’s entrepreneurial instinct to move from India to Hong Kong, and to open an office for the family business there, was pivotal for our family. My parents raised all four of us there and we’ve always been appreciative of the life we had. I came to the U.S. to study business and I found that people here and in Hong Kong share similarities in their desire to succeed. My dad talks at length about how fortunate he was to move to Hong Kong. The foundation that my parents gave me there allowed me to come here and start my own business.
Co-founder of video publishing platform Kaltura. She was formerly the co-founder of Cyota, an online security company, which was acquired by RSA Security for $145 million.
Country of origin: Israel
I started Cyota in New York with my four co-founders while we were all pursuing graduate degrees at NYU. We decided to incorporate in the United States rather than Israel because the primary market for our security solutions were large banks and financial firms. In Israel, you can’t meet with the largest banks or universities or enterprises. It was clear to us that the market we wanted to tap was not there.
CEO and co-founder of Product Movers, which provides custom design and packaging services, and has revenues of $10 million.
Country of origin: India
I learned a great lesson in business when I was 16 years old. I worked with a volunteer organization in Calcutta and started a clinic. Other free clinics hadn’t worked because people wouldn’t continue to take their medications. So we charged something nominal, like 50 cents. People felt it wasn’t charity. They made the choice to buy the medicine so they were committed to the treatment. That first startup gave me great insight. Empowering your customer is important. Today, I always make sure to involve my customers in our work.
Founder, CEO, SciMetrika, a public health consulting firm with $18 million in revenues.
Country of origin: Haiti
I left Haiti when I was 10 years old and finished high school in the West Indies before immigrating to the United States. I hope that we recognize the contributions of immigrants to entrepreneurship and the strength of people coming from different backgrounds. Immigrants bring a different perspective to business and a certain drive and hunger. In college, I never partied or goofed off because I was so focused on the opportunity I was given. It is difficult to explain to my children now how much they have.
CEO of digital textbook company Kno Inc., and formerly the co-founder and CEO of online textbook rental company Chegg Inc.
Country of origin: Pakistan
Frankly, I was broke in college. As a foreign student, it was difficult to pay for tuition and textbooks. My family was supporting me from Pakistan and I didn’t want to put an additional burden on them. So starting Chegg, an online textbook rental service, was directly related to my experience as an immigrant.
Founder, CEO, Verdi Consulting, a $2.4 million accounting, financial management and IT enterprise solutions firm that works with government agencies.
Country of origin: Haiti
I loved accounting but I never thought I would start my own business. That’s the great thing about America: If you work hard, you can be very successful. Even though my family in Sierra Leone was poor, I never had preconceived notions of life in the United States. There was no barrier I couldn’t cross.
Written by: Matthew Wong & Kathleen Kim