What makes a great entrepreneur? Who achieves the American dream of prosperity and success through the application of sheer hard work, determination and innovation?
Look at the numbers and you’ll find good evidence that immigrants and others who come from nothing are the ones who make it to the top.
A study by the Partnership for a New American Economy, for instance, found that more than 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or their children. In fact, the revenue generated by these companies is greater than the gross domestic product (GDP) of every country in the world except the U.S., China and Japan and include seven of the 10 most valuable brands in the world.
Foreign-born entrepreneurs are now behind even more initial public offerings and economic growth than before the recession, according to the National Venture Capital Association.
These numbers don’t surprise me. I’ve long known and appreciated the opportunity that this great country offers. My own parents immigrated from India with just $25 in their pockets and a burning desire to make a fresh start. A year or so later they brought me (just before my fourth birthday) and my three siblings to join them. America has given me the opportunity to achieve my dreams and I’m blessed to be a third-time successful entrepreneur.
That same opportunity exists for everyone—immigrants, if you come from nothing, middle-class, and even the children of the wealthy—if you’re willing to work for it.
What makes a great entrepreneur? A willingness to overcome fear. A willingness to work way beyond a 9 to 5 routine. A willingness to make mistakes and fail, and to learn lessons.
A great entrepreneur pushes the envelope; makes tough decisions; remains positive in spite of adversity; never accepts ‘no’ as an answer; is a risk-taker.
JFK was passionate about the opportunities that exist in America and the vital part played by people from around the world who make a new beginning in this country. He was passionate about immigration reform and authored a book called “A Nation of Immigrants.” In it he writes about America as a nation of people who explore new frontiers and of immigrants who deserve the freedom to build better lives for themselves in their adopted homeland.
Today’s immigrants are often pioneers with the same can-do spirit as those who opened up the American west in the 1800’s. Many are exploring new and just as exciting frontiers in astounding and innovative ways—like Google co-founder Sergey Brin who was born in Russia; Pierre Omidyar, the French-born Iranian who created eBay and Jerry Yang co-founder of Yahoo! who was born in Taiwan and says that when he immigrated to the U.S. at the age of 10 he only knew one word of English—shoe. Intel co-founder Andrew Grove hails from Hungary; Steve Chen of YouTube from Taiwan; Steve Jobs, of course, was the child of an immigrant parent from Syria. The list goes on and on.
A recent truly inspiring example of an immigrant rags-to-riches success story is that of WhatsApp co-founder Jan Koum, who was born and raised in a small house in a village in the Ukraine which had no hot water. Last February, when he sold his instant messaging company to Facebook for $19 billion he picked a meaningful spot to sign the deal—a disused Social Services office where, at the age of 16, he and his mother once stood in line to collect food stamps.
As former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has said, “America has always been a magnet for the world’s most talented and hardest working.”
Beyond the high tech world there are dozens of iconic U.S. companies founded by entrepreneurs who were born in other countries. When July 4th rolls around this year and you celebrate independence with a traditional barbecue think of this: Your Ball Park Franks (Sara Lee) with Kraft American cheese and a dollop of Hunt’s Ketchup (conAgra) all come from companies launched by immigrants.
Immigrants and those from poverty-stricken backgrounds are often the individuals who fully appreciate what America has to offer. They’ll do menial jobs, just to get a start. They’ll turn adversity into adventure. They have grit.
As someone once said, only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.