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What can you learn from successful immigrant entrepreneurs?

Will Shu, CEO of Deliveroo still regularly delivers food to customers - Image credit:

Immigrant entrepreneurs already proved that it doesn´t really matter where you were born. In the US more than 40% of the Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or their children according to Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM).

And most of them who went to start companies have transformed our lives and disrupted traditional business models. Start-ups like Transferwise, Deliveroo, EasyJet, Euro Car Parts, are some of the most inspiring stories from UK immigrants, no wonder that 49% of the UK’s fastest growing businesses have at least one immigrant founders. Tesla’s Elon Musk, WhatsApp’s Jan Koum, and Google’s Sergey Brin are prominent immigrant entrepreneurs from the US.

Despite the lack of entrepreneur visa and other obstacles, such as waiting many years for a permanent residence or citizenship status for e.g. Indian entrepreneur Jyoti Bansal waited 7 years for his green card in the US before he could start AppDynamics, which was acquired in January 2017 by Cisco for $3.7 billion. And most of the successful ones arrived those countries without any wealth or connections.

Here are the 5 important lessons that we can learn from immigrant entrepreneurs:

1 - Develop the mindset of resiliency and ingenuity combined with a hunger for success.

Roman Martynenko, COO of Astound Commerce, the world's largest independent digital commerce agency, told that, “It’s all in our heads! We understand that nothing will be handed to us on silver platters. Every single win requires sweat and tears.” People who consistently develop and maintain a growth mindset share the following characteristics:

  • Embrace challenges

  • Persist in the face of setbacks

  • See effort as the path to mastery

  • Learn from criticism

  • Find lessons and inspiration in the success of others

2 - Have and leverage a support system.

Finding someone with a common interest would contribute to your success. For e.g., Martynenko, the CEO of Netrix Digital was fortunate to find two other transplants from the Soviet Union in college. The three friends shared a passion for knowledge and entrepreneurial spirit that encouraged them to start their own business.

Martynenko said, “Without networks to rely on, my partners and I built our own from scratch. That trained us to be selective with our relationships and guard our reputation at all costs.”

3 - Develop a zeal for knowledge.

The learning process should be one that becomes habitual. Education shouldn´t end once you have graduated high school, college, or any other institution. By creating a passion for learning you will, in effect, create a lifetime of opportunity; this passion gives you the drive to explore new ideas and challenges each with their own risks and rewards. A deep passion for learning new things always pay off by allowing to explore design thinking, disrupting a traditional process, when you venture off on your own by starting a business or using it as a launching point to explore new topics that interest you (which may become hobbies in time).

4 - See and understand problems at a deeper level. Find or build a company that allows you to solve them.

Generating new ideas, recognizing previously unseen problems and overcoming challenges with unique solutions all require the creativity to see and understand problems at a deeper level.

Studying abroad for even one semester has been shown to increase creativity in college students. Imagine the benefits of adjusting to and living in an entirely new culture?

Estonian friends Kristo and Taavet were working in London where they spotted an opportunity to revolutionize money transfers slashing the cost of currency conversion. Kristo was paid in Sterling Pounds and Taavet was paid in Euros, but Kristo had a mortgage to pay back home in Estonia. So, they discovered it was much cheaper and quicker to avoid converting the money. Taavet paid Kristo´s mortgage in euros, Kristo paid him back in Sterling, and Transferwise was born.

5 - Pursue change.

Choosing to immigrate to a new country is a conscious pursuit of change. Many people leave their home country seeking a better future and trying to pursue their dreams. During that time many become strong while other become weak. Some fulfill their dreams and many others don´t. Being an immigrant is tough, the experience you gain today will shape who you are tomorrow.

After all, grit and a tolerance for risk is a prerequisite for both entrepreneurship and immigration. As Ronald Reagan put it: “It is bold men and women, yearning for freedom and opportunity, who leave their homelands and come to a new country to start their lives over… And often they are entrepreneurs.”

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