5 Big Businesses Started by Immigrants

5 Big Businesses Started by Immigrants

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The drive of the entrepreneur is what many of us think of when asked to describe why the American economy is so unique. Startups often grow into mid-sized companies, and then – eventually – into mammoth corporations that we can’t imagine living our lives without. Companies like Airbnb, Uber, Angie’s List, and others were once just the dreams of a few motivated individuals that have been seen through with hard work and favorable market conditions.

Some of the most successful startups were created by immigrants to the U.S. Whether they be first-generation Americans or those from a long line of foreign-born entrepreneurs, the impressive contribution that those from outside our country have made to the American business landscape has been invaluable.

Immigrant Business by the Numbers

Despite what stereotypes in movies and TV suggest, there isn’t one kind of industry that thrives when started by immigrants. Food trucks, convenience stores, shopping apps, corporate consultancies, and fashion brands all have success stories where immigrants blazed a trail. This group is making an overall impact on every business sector – and often, at a faster rate than the U.S. population at large. A 2012 study by the U.S. Small Business Association, shows that the immigrant population starts more businesses than U.S. citizens.

The study also showed that immigrants are more likely to form and own a business than non-immigrants. One in ten immigrants own a business, and 0.62 percent will start a new one this month. These businesses start with more money. Almost 20 percent have over $50,000 when they opened up shop, compared with less than 16 percent of non-immigrants. This money largely comes from personal or family savings, but capital from credit cards and loans are common, too.

Are they doing as well, though? That’s where the numbers falter. This same study revealed that for every $1.00 in sales made by non-immigrant firms, this group sold around $0.70. (The study didn’t go into the “why” of this trend, although immigrant companies are more likely to export – which could play into their overall pricing model.)

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Success Stories

While there is work to do for immigrants to close the sales gap, the positive gains the group is making in starting a business is encouraging. Fortunately, there is no shortage of role models for those from outside our country to admire, with 40% of the Fortune 500 rooted in the ideas of immigrants. Here are a few of the more successful immigrant-formed corporations rocking the economy today, along with where their founders originated:

Tesla (South Africa)

You can’t ignore the influence that Elon Musk has on everything – not just business. His company, which employs over 18,000 people to work for both his Tesla car manufacturer and his headline-grabbing SpaceX project, was founded in 2002. The latest Tesla Model 3 sedan just beat production targets and stunned market analysts. What new records will Elon break next?

Yahoo (Taiwan)

Many things are made in Taiwan, but the most notable was made right here in the U.S. when Jerry Yang changed the internet forever through web search, email, and news. As is the case with most big tech projects, Yang was a co-founder, so he had help. This 1994 startup has had ups and downs, but still employs well over 10,000 workers and continues to be a heavy hitter in the tech space.

Chobani (Turkey)

If you like your yogurt thick (very thick), then you already know about this market disrupter in the dairy space. Hamdi Ulukaya created this versatile “Greek” yogurt product in 2005, and now employs 2,000 workers – as well as contributes significantly to the Norwich, NY economy. He has made it a personal mission to support other immigrants, through his hiring of over 3,000 refuges over the years. His charitable pursuits have centered around the unique plight of those in the European border crisis and have even earned some harsh backlash. He shows no signs of curbing his charitable passions anytime soon.

Google (Russia)

With all of the sometimes-uncomfortable talk regarding technology and Russia, you can’t deny that one of its own has changed the online world in a very positive manner. Sergey Brin helped start Google in 1998 and went on be one of the most coveted employers on the West Coast. 53,000 workers call Google home, with the Google campus continually making headlines for its innovative approach to work environments and company perks. Workers in the Palo Alto area can get free rides to work, bring their pets to the office, score free breakfast and get free paid leave when your baby is born (dads included.)

Panda Express (Myanmar)

While some will claim that Chinese food in America isn’t anything like real Chinese cuisine, Panda Express was actually founded by those from Myanmar. Why is this important? It proves that Andrew and Peggy Chern knew their market and used their unique backgrounds to create something Americans would love. Whether you’re a Honey Walnut Shrimp fan, or you just come for the Lo-Mein, this fast-growing chain has delighted diners in every part of the U.S. and employs over 24,000 workers. Its over 2,000 locations have earned the chain the top spot as the largest Asian segment franchise in the States.

The Future of Business

With the news cycle forever speculating on how immigration will change under the current Administration, there are some positive truths for the future of growth. According to the New American Economy Research Fund, many of the sectors poised for the greatest growth are those in which immigrants excel. According to their findings, “Immigrants start more than 25% of all businesses in seven of the eight sectors of the economy that the U.S. government expects to grow the fastest over the next decade. These include health care and social assistance (28.7%), construction (31.8%), retail trade (29.1%) and leisure and hospitality (23.9%), among others.”

In other words, the future still seems very bright for those motivated to disrupt markets – no matter where they were born.

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