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The 4 Most Valuable US Unicorns Have Immigrant CEOs. So Do 4 Of The 7 Top Public Companies

Immigrants have long comprised an outsized share of founders and CEOs of the most valuable American technology companies. But recently, their prominence has been even further on the rise.

All of the four most valuable private, venture-backed U.S. companies now have immigrant founders and CEOs, per Crunchbase analysis.

In the public markets, meanwhile, four of the seven most valuable U.S. companies are now headed by immigrants.

It’s a remarkable showing given that immigrants make up just 13.7 percent of the U.S. population. Immigrants’ representation at the helm of the most valuable unicorns also appears to have risen since we last did a similar analysis, about two years ago.

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Below, we break down some of the findings, and highlight some of the high-profile American companies with CEOs and founders born outside the U.S.

SpaceX and some decacorns with immigrant leaders

Per Crunchbase data, the four most valuable private, venture-backed U.S. companies are led and founded by immigrants:

  • SpaceX, of course, is founded and led by Elon Musk, a native of South Africa who attended college in Canada before immigrating to the U.S. The company reportedly hit a valuation of just over $100 billion in a secondary share transaction last October.
  • Stripe is co-founded by brothers Patrick and John Collison, who hail from Ireland. Patrick Collison, who also serves as the payment company’s CEO, came to the U.S. to attend MIT but left to build a startup. John Collison attended Harvard, but also left to pursue the startup life before completing his degree. Stripe’s last publicly disclosed valuation was $95 billion.
  • Instacart’s CEO, Fidji Simo, who took the post in August, hails from France. Meanwhile, Instacart’s founder and former CEO, Apoorva Mehta, was born in India. He moved to Libya shortly after he was born, and then to Canada at age 14. The company’s last reported valuation was around $39 billion.
  • Databricks’ founder and CEO, Ali Ghodsi, was born in Iran and moved to Sweden as a child. After completing a doctorate in Sweden, he joined UC Berkeley in California as a visiting scholar. Databricks, which offers AI-enabled tools for managing large quantities of data across platforms, was recently valued around $38 billion.

Public tech companies with immigrant CEOs

In the public markets, meanwhile, four of the seven most valuable U.S. companies are now headed by immigrants.

That’s one of the interesting, albeit unexpected, consequences of Facebook’s recent share price plunge, following its disappointing earnings report last month. Now, the social media giant is no longer one of the seven most valuable U.S. public companies.

Instead, chipmaker Nvidia has moved into the top seven, per CNBC. Its CEO and co-founder, Jensen Huang, is a native of Taiwan who immigrated to the U.S. with his family at age 9.

In addition to Nvidia, three more companies in the top seven are led by immigrants. Sundar Pichai and Satya Nadella, the CEOs of Google and Microsoft, respectively, are from India. Tesla’s Elon Musk, meanwhile, has the distinction of being the only person, regardless of immigration status, to rank as CEO and founder of both a top-valuation private company and a leading public company. The other companies in the top seven—Amazon, Apple, and Berkshire Hathaway—have U.S.-born CEOs.

What recent funding tells us about immigrants’ role in building future tech giants

When we last looked in 2020, early data indicated the proportion of high-valuation U.S. startups founded or led by immigrants was trending down some. One factor is the growth of startup hubs outside the U.S., making it easier for founders to launch companies in their home country. The other, most notorious factor: the hurdles of securing a visa as a would-be startup founder.

That said, a number of newly minted U.S. unicorns and decacorns do have immigrant leaders. We’ll take a look at who they are in a follow-up piece.

Photo: Jensen Huang, CEO and co-founder of chipmaker Nvidia, at SC18. (Photo by Raysonho @ Open Grid Scheduler/Scalable Grid Engine, used under the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication license.)


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