Immigrants Fill Top Ranks of Venture-Backed Tech Startups

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obtaining a master’s or doctoral degree.

Without reform, Iranian-born Alex Mehr warned that foreign-born students graduating from American universities with advanced degrees will “choose to go to Canada or some European countries [to start new companies], basically because of U.S. immigration policy.” Mehr and longtime friend Shayan Zadeh, who met as students at the Sharif University of Technology in Tehran, also studied at U.S. universities and later co-founded San Francisco-based Zoosk, a romantic social networking site.

“We are finally getting on track in Congress in making the distinction between legal immigration and illegal immigration,” Heesen said.

Anderson based his research, which was funded by a grant from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, on the top 50 venture-funded companies, as ranked earlier this year by the research firm VentureSource. Each company in the sample has raised capital from venture investors in the past three years, is privately held, and is valued at less than $1 billion. VentureSource based its ranking on the companies’ growth, the founders and investors, capital raised, and the CEOs’ previous success.

Some highlights from Anderson’s report:

—Twenty-three companies, or almost half of the 50-company sample, had at least one founder who was an immigrant.

—The most common country of origin for an immigrant founder was India, followed by Israel, Canada, Iran and New Zealand. Other immigrants who founded or co-founded companies in the sample were born in Italy, South Africa, Greece, Norway, Germany, the United Kingdom, Singapore, Switzerland and France.

—The most common job held by an immigrant at a venture-backed U.S. startup was chief technology officer.

The full report can be downloaded here.

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Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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  • A rational immigration policy is a cost-effective solution for job creation in the United States. Under current rules we are forcing many of the best and brightest out of our economy. In many cases these talented U.S. trained foreign nationals end up working for foreign competitors.