How international startups are supporting New York City


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Ramphis Castro


Ramphis Castro is the New York City director of The Founder Institute and he is a Kauffman Fellow.

Immigrants make up 13.3 percent of the population in the U.S., which is the highest percentage the country has seen in more than 100 years. Now let’s put this into perspective: Thirty-six percent of all top tech founders in the U.S. are immigrants — almost triple the percentage of immigrants in the country.

Many immigrants are pushing innovation in the U.S, aiding the country economically with their ventures. According to a report by the National Venture Capital Association, one-third of all venture-backed publicly traded companies between 2006 and 2012 had at least one foreign-born entrepreneur. The companies have a combined valuation of $9 billion.

At the same time, current immigration laws are a huge roadblock to many international entrepreneurs’ successes. There’s no such thing as a startup visa like there is in other countries.

Zoom in on New York City, and international companies are making a big impact on the startup ecosystem. It’s these foreign businesses and entrepreneurs that are leading the way in New York’s ecosystem, and propelling its tech scene into success. Yet even in New York, one of the most diverse cities in the world, there is a growing anti-immigrant sentiment.

Business support for global entrepreneurs in New York will progress the city’s ecosystem

New York City’s tech scene now employs 300,000 people. That’s about the same as the Silicon Valley.

The tech growth is so prevalent, in fact, that former mayor Michael Bloomberg created the Made in NY Map, which maps out startups, events, workspaces and tech jobs around the city.

Those active in New York City’s startup industry know international entrepreneurs and companies seriously contribute to the city’s tech ecosystem. They’re hosting events, making investor introductions and providing new business opportunities to younger company counterparts, so the new global entrepreneurs will flourish and progress the city.

NY Latino Tech Meetup, which invites companies with a focus on Latin America, and Japan NYC Startups, are two of the many groups that host events and provide support for entrepreneurs wanting to bridge the American and international tech ecosystems. World to NYC is another organization that brings established startups to New York City to build partnerships with New York and U.S. firms. As does VentureOut NY,  by providing startups with one week of intense training in order to access New York markets. The program has accelerated more than 500 global companies.

Even the Canadian government wants to help their entrepreneurs make it south of the border. The Canadian Technology Accelerator Initiative selects high-potential early-stage digital media companies to set up shop in New York City for four months. Here, the companies are mentored and receive business contacts in order to strengthen investor networks, lands big clients and explore future expansion into New York City.

Countless more organizations are bringing resources and jobs to New York, helping to fuel the local economy.

Economy growth in NYC is advanced by foreign founders and international tech companies

It’s important we also not forget the contributions that foreign founders and international tech companies are making to this growth in New York. New York boasts successful companies founded by foreign entrepreneurs, including Outbrain, founded by Yaron Galai and Ori Lahav from Israel, that filed to go public at a $1 billion valuation. Paddle8, co-founded by Aditya Julka from India, sells fine art, collectibles and jewelry. It has raised $44 million in funding, and by just the second quarter of 2015, Paddle8 had already sold $25 million worth of product.

It’s also well-established international tech companies that are moving to the city. Slack, which offers instant messaging software for offices, is opening a New York City office and brings a wealth of technical talent with them. The company was founded by Stewart Butterfield of British Columbia and is headquartered in Vancouver, Canada.

Spotify, the music streaming service from Stockholm with more than 24 million active users, opened a New York City office in 2013. In making the point to come to New York, the company brought more tax revenue and jobs with them.

When Spotify first arrived, it employed 150 people. When it moved offices in 2014, Spotify added 130 new engineering jobs. The New York office is Spotify’s second largest (the company’s main headquarters is still in Stockholm) and proves New York City’s tech ecosystem is a rapidly growing and desired hub for cool, new-age and successful international tech brands.

The growth of New York City’s startup scene is due in part to the success of these international startups. However, for new talent to do this, the immigration laws need to work in their favor. Current immigration laws are a huge roadblock to many entrepreneurs’ success. As an example of this, there’s no such thing as a startup visa like there is in other countries. A bill for one was introduced in Congress in 2011; however, it didn’t pass into law.

The issue is so prevalent, in fact, that in February, City University of New York (CUNY) created a program that helps immigrant founders obtain uncapped H-1B visas. With the program, founders use their expertise to contribute to university research and programs, but also spend time working on their startups.

However, startup founders shouldn’t need to pass through loopholes to unleash their growth in New York. To make sure we have the political willpower needed to make immigration reform work, we need to change the sentiment toward foreign entrepreneurs. The last thing New York, and the United States, needs is for foreign tech companies to take their businesses elsewhere.

We need to seriously recognize the importance that foreign startups have, as well as their ability to support New York’s economy.

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