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Commentary: Immigrant entrepreneurs embody the American Dream

March 1, 2017  |  Philly.com

As the son of immigrant scientists - and as a scientist myself - I am deeply troubled by the Trump administration's immigration policy.

 

As the leader of a tech-based, economic development organization, I'm even more apprehensive about the policy's impact on innovation, entrepreneurship, and America's ability to compete on a global scale.

 

I'm saddened to see this blunt-force policy affect the fate of the immigrants who have been stopped at our borders and turned away, as well as the impact on hopeful new visa applicants. Regardless of rumored changes, the policy has already sent a troubling signal to the rest of the world.

 

We cannot forget that America was built on the twin bedrocks of immigration and entrepreneurship. Imagine starting over in a new country and using your wits and grit to launch a company, provide for family, and succeed. That was the experience of many of our grandparents and parents.

 

Today's immigrant entrepreneurs (often fleeing persecution in their native countries) continue that tradition of bootstrapping as they create new technologies and products. They embody the American Dream.

 

Yet in the clamor of today's 24/7 cycle of cable and internet news, their contributions are often overlooked and their voices are frequently missing from our nation's rancorous debate over immigration.

 

Imagine what life would be like without immigrant entrepreneurs such as Scottish-born Alexander Graham Bell, who invented the telephone and founded what is now known as AT&T; or French-born E.I. DuPont, who founded the chemical giant in my home state of Delaware; or Intel founder Andy Grove, who was born in Hungary and revolutionized the semiconductor industry.

 

Or, for that matter, immigrant Alexander Hamilton, who gave our fledgling nation a banking and economic system that still exists today.

 

Today's immigrant entrepreneurs include Sergey Brin of Google, Elon Musk of Tesla, and Hamdi Ulukaya of Chobani. Together, their companies employ more than 70,000 people.

 

At my organization, the University City Science Center, nearly one-third of the 58 companies in our business incubator were founded by someone born outside of the United States. Entrepreneurs such as Yasmine Mustafa, a Palestinian immigrant, whose startup ROAR for Good is developing wearable technology to prevent attacks on women. And Indian immigrant Mihir Shah, whose company, UE LifeSciences, is disrupting breast-cancer diagnostics around the globe.

 

Yasmine, Mihir, and their fellow immigrant entrepreneurs are creating technologies and products that are transforming the world - and our economy.

 

And they are a force that is moving America - their adopted homeland - forward.

Here are some amazing statistics:

 

Immigrants account for about 13 percent of the U.S. population. Yet, they represent more than a quarter of America's entrepreneurs.

 

Nearly one-third of venture-backed founders are immigrant entrepreneurs.

 

More than half of America's startups valued at $1 billion or more were started by immigrants.

 

These numbers - and the voices and sacrifices behind them - are missing from our national debate on immigration. And that omission is creating a dangerous distortion in the immigration narrative.

 

We need these brilliant people with their bright ideas, the companies they form, and the jobs they create.

 

When immigration and entrepreneurship intersect, magic can - and often does - happen. We cannot afford to see that magic disappear.

 

Stephen S. Tang is president and CEO of the University City Science Center in Philadelphia and co-chair of the National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship. @stephenstang stang@sciencecenter.org