By Nitin Pachisia, Founding Partner of Unshackled Ventures. Nitin Pachisia is an entrepreneur-turned-investor and recently featured in Forbes for his work with Unshackled Ventures, but prior to this he experienced the myths and misinformation that many immigrant entrepreneurs face when forming a startup.
Tens of thousands of entrepreneurs in the U.S. first started their long journeys in other countries. I should know. I am one of them. There are many different kinds of entrepreneurs and we should honor all of them. But I wanted to use this post to correct several myths associated with immigrant entrepreneurs.
These entrepreneurs were selected by American institutions of higher learning or companies from a talent pool of billions of people; they truly represent some of the brightest minds in the entire world.
But when they dream of starting a business in the US, a common misnomer I often hear is "I have been told that I cannot start my own company in the US while I am on a visa.”
This is simply not true.
Erik Torenberg (founding partner at Village Global) recently tweeted a similar experience he had with three entrepreneurs in a week; each of who had concluded that they couldn’t start their company because of visa issues.
I don't know the specifics of the people Erik is referring to, but the frequency at which we have heard similar responses from entrepreneurs is deeply concerning (we of course hear this more often since we focus exclusively on immigrant founded startups). This kind of misinformation is taken at face value by entrepreneurs as counsel/advice. The truth, though, is that "you are on a visa, you can't start a company" as legal advice is the equivalent of "just win baby" or "strength in numbers" as a playbook. In other words, it's not.
Unfortunately, that's what many entrepreneurs are being subjected to. That's tragic, hurtful, and makes me angry every time I hear it because the worst part is seeing highly enterprising individuals who are comfortable taking financial and career risks, succumb to the fear of the unknown even when they find a solution.
The misinformation sows seeds of doubt in their minds, which can be hard to recover from.
I was subjected to similar "advice", when I wanted to start my first company (on H1B), by many immigration attorneys. I wasn't satisfied with the answer and kept searching for a solution for six months, which was a major distraction. I was fortunate to eventually discover a way to do what I wanted to do. I then met an immigration attorney who actually understood entrepreneurship, was willing to invest time and effort in understanding my unique circumstances, and who has ever since ensured that I am able to pursue the career path of my choosing, while also following the terms of the visa I am on. (they are now our partners at Unshackled.)
I have since met a few other immigration attorneys focusing on solutions for immigrant entrepreneurs. You know who you are, and we appreciate you. Please keep up the good work!
Another suggestion some people make is "move to XYZ country" (or move to your home country). Again, this is not really useful - the founder came to the US with a purpose/plan. And had to do a lot to get here. Please don't tell her to go somewhere else. By the way, American jobs leave with founders if they leave to build their companies elsewhere. Sending entrepreneurs away is the worst form of off-shoring jobs.
Another oft-made observation is "the best will find a way". This is mostly true. Determined entrepreneurs don't let anything stop them. However, non-compliance with immigration laws can create unintended consequences that could stop the company just when it starts growing.
So, even most fearless founders may not take the leap when dealing with immigration, until they get a greencard (could be 10+ years for founders from India/China). Especially relevant for founders with families who can be impacted. We don't follow these generalizations because we have learned that each situation is different and specifics are more informative than stereotypes.
In most cases though, being on a visa doesn't stop founders, but it slows them down, which is equally harmful in the world of innovation. It takes time to cut through the [mis]information & find what works for them individually. When looking for a solution for myself, I assumed that VCs would have built-in resources or solutions to address a fairly common issue for foreign-born entrepreneurs. That was a bad assumption. There were VCs with resources for hiring, design, fundraising, corp dev, etc., but none for immigration support. Unshackled Ventures was born to fill that gap. To help immigrant founders succeed faster. We have an immigration playbook and the right people to execute it, specifically as it applies to entrepreneurs.
An immigrant entrepreneur's worst enemy is misinformation. Don't let anyone tell you that you can’t start a company because you are on a visa. Prove them wrong.
For what it's worth, one of Unshackled GPs is still on a visa. We didn't let my immigration status stop us, but it did affect the speed of execution. Our mission at Unshackled Ventures is to not let that happen to others. It's personal.
We see a huge opportunity in saving immigrant founders their time. The time they would spend finding the immigration solution or waiting for a greencard is time lost not solving critical problems, building solutions, creating jobs. The exact pathway varies for each founder. Almost always, there's a compliant way to go about it. Work with people who know what they are doing. Anyone telling you that you can't or shouldn't be the right partner/counsel. Don't stop there, keep looking. PLEASE!
If the only thing slowing you down is immigration, talk to us at Unshackled Ventures. We'll try our best to find how you CAN pursue your American dream - build something phenomenal, create American jobs. Don't just take my word for it - ask any of our portfolio founders.
(I replied to Erik's question with a series of tweets, linked here)