The Case for Supporting Immigrant Entrepreneurship

By: Karl R. LaPan, President & CEO, The Northeast Indiana Innovation Center (The NIIC)

I know you might be expecting me to comment in advance of Trump’s big immigration reform speech today, but I am not. Instead, I want to talk about the economic and business case for immigrant entrepreneurship. It is my belief that immigrant entrepreneurship should be non-partisan. It is just plain good business to support it, and let me share with you why.

Entrepreneurship is a team sport. It is also inclusive. Everyone benefits when entrepreneurship is broadly embraced both because our economy depends on it, and because immigrant business owners have contributed significantly to the American economy.

  • Think about Sergey Brin, Liz Claiborne, Andy Grove and Jerry Yang. What do they all have in common? They are examples of successful immigrant entrepreneurs.
  • Consider this: 25% MORE U.S. businesses are started each month by immigrants than by non-immigrant Americans.

Additionally, reflect on some of these stats from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. First-generation immigrants:

  • Own 28.4% of businesses and have less than a high school education;
  • Own 12% of businesses and possess a college education; and
  • Own 10.8% of all firms with employees, providing job opportunities for thousands of Americans.

Speaking of jobs, the Fiscal Policy Institute found that small businesses owned by immigrants directly employed an estimated 4.7 million people in this country. And it’s estimated that these small businesses are responsible for more than $776 billion in revenue annually.

I am currently reading the book Geography of Genius, and in the book the author makes the following point, “Openness to experience is the single most important trait in creative people. It also turns out that’s true for places, as well.” Immigrant innovators and entrepreneurs are not afraid to dream big and innovate. According to the Partnership for a New American Economy, foreign-born inventors contributed to about three-quarters of patents issued to the top ten patent-producing universities.

Additionally, according to the National Venture Capital Association, immigrants have started 25 percent of public U.S. companies that were backed by venture capital investors. “Openness” is a prerequisite and catalyst for addressing three decades of declines in the level of U.S. entrepreneurship venture formation.

These are just a few examples of the contributions immigrants make. Numerous other supporting studies have pointed to a direct a link between immigration and economic growth. It’s time we returned to our roots by supporting immigrant-run businesses. After all, our nation is one of immigrants. Our American story would simply not be possible if it weren’t for the scores of immigrants who came to our land for opportunity.

However, our current national narrative isn’t exactly focused on how to leverage this asset – immigrant entrepreneurship – to our advantage, as this Inc.com article suggests: “For many years, the U.S. was the best place in the world to go start a company,” says Jason Wiens, a policy director at the Kauffman Foundation. “If we don’t provide ways for these people to stay here and create companies, we’re going to lose out.”

Regardless of your feelings on immigration reform, we simply cannot discount the role immigrants have played in advancing, innovating and inspiring this country in search of the American dream and creating the cool jobs, technologies and industries that will drive our economic future. Immigrant entrepreneurship is not optional. It is an imperative to reaching our full entrepreneurial potential in America.


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