It’s well known that immigrants founded or lead a large percentage of U.S. businesses from small mom-and-pop operations to major corporations. But what about the latest generation of fast-growing, high-valuation private companies?
A Crunchbase News analysis of the most heavily funded U.S. unicorns finds that roughly half count an immigrant as a founder or chief executive. They hail from a broad swathe of geographies from nearby Canada to India to the Middle East.
In the chart below, we list twelve examples, ordered by total capital raised.
The findings for heavily funded unicorns hew pretty closely to overall stats for immigrant leadership at top venture-backed startups. According to a U.S. National Venture Capital Association synopsis published last year, an estimated 51 percent of domestic private companies valued at $1 billion or more had one or more immigrant founders. Overall, 31 percent of venture-backed founders are immigrants.
Among U.S. unicorns, the path to success for foreign-born founders and CEOs varies quite a bit.
Some immigrated at a young age, like Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, who moved to the U.S. from Iran at the age of nine. Khosrowshahi is also one of few on the list who was not a startup entrepreneur. Instead, he previously served as CEO of travel site Expedia before taking the post at Uber.
Others came to the U.S. for college or grad school then dove into the startup scene. For instance, Elon Musk, who graduated from the Wharton School of Business and subsequently dropped out of a graduate physics program at Stanford, launched a string of startups.
Still others succeeded first in ventures closer to home. Slack founder and CEO Stewart Butterfield had a successful track record as a serial entrepreneur in Canada. Butterfield’s best-known pre-Slack venture is Flickr, one of the earlier photo-sharing sites to gain popularity.
The prominence of immigrant founders and CEOs isn’t a new trend. A study by the Center for American Entrepreneurship, a startup advocacy group, found that 43 percent of companies on the Fortune 500 list for 2017 were founded or co-founded by an immigrant or the child of an immigrant. At the top 35 companies, the total was 57 percent.
Immigrant founders have a particularly high representation in tech. Famed analyst Mary Meeker drew attention to this in her annual internet trends report a month ago, with a slide showing that 56 percent of the 25 most valuable technology companies were founded by first or second generation Americans.
Methodology: It should be noted that the CAE and Meeker methodologies differ from the Crunchbase dataset. Crunchbase data included only first-generation immigrants, not U.S.-born children of immigrants.
Illustration Credit: Li Anne Dias