Early-stage funding has gone from plummeting to plateauing, and every seed VC I’ve spoken to has been incredibly busy. It feels like pent-up funding will soon make its way back into the sector.
But for immigrants, this fresh opportunity may be more difficult to take advantage of. I’ve worked solely with immigrant founders since launching my VC fund in 2017. I’ve found that people raised in different cultures often avoid taboos or stay within comfort zones that hinder their ambitions in the United States.
I want immigrants to be as well equipped as possible to fundraise. Though we can’t generalize behaviors across all immigrant populations, there are some qualities U.S.-based VCs particularly seek out.
Embrace who you are
I’ve found it’s more common and well-received to proudly identify as an immigrant in the U.S. than in other countries.
Don’t shy away from talking about your experiences as an immigrant — incorporate these stories into your conversation with investors and the media. It’s no small feat building a new life abroad, and then building a disruptive startup from scratch. Discuss the skills you acquired that you’re now using as an entrepreneur, such as an ability to tune in to new social dynamics.
This shouldn’t be forced, but if it’s part of your path to entrepreneurship, take investors on that founder journey with you.
Err on the side of optimism
Another behavior I come across frequently is that immigrants have more difficulty “selling themselves” compared to U.S.-born entrepreneurs. In some countries, bragging may be unbecoming. But in the U.S., to avoid it may come across as lacking confidence in your product.
Don’t just stick to current numbers and what is true now: Showcase your startup’s future prospects and market projections with optimism and hefty research.
Another common mistake is to hide your “failures,” like dropping out of college or founding a prior startup that didn’t work. But investors want to hear about those vital life experiences and how you’ve improved from your stumbles.
Customers are not a consequence of the tech
Immigrant founders often wait too long before talking to customers, thinking VCs care more about the tech. But this delays positioning and client acquisition.
Before you have an MVP, build a community within your target market. Set up events, forums and start building transparency and trust.
When talking to users, get them to clarify every single point. In some cultures, being confrontational is rude, and people would rather nod in agreement. But that misses 90% of the value. Investors expect more than surface-level insight, and you have to learn how people convey their opinions and desires.
Build a network
Immigrants aren’t going to have established networks like native founders. But there’s no magic Rolodex separating you from them.
You can always get a warm intro to investors if you expose yourself to the right people: Meet engineers and founders in your space, and/or join an accelerator — then people will start hearing about you.
People won’t connect you with top investors unless you add specific value to them. Deep dive into investors’ personal journeys, the particular challenges they address, and how your startup matches their needs.
I truly believe immigrant founders are the most capable founders out there. But getting through the door can be a challenge defined more by cultural differences than entrepreneurial potential. I hope this advice can get more immigrant entrepreneurs the spotlight they deserve.
Semyon Dukach is founding partner of One Way Ventures, a VC firm funding exceptional immigrant founders. A Ukrainian-American, he came to the U.S. as a child refugee in 1979. He is the former managing director of Techstars (Boston) and an angel investor in more than 100 companies.
Illustration: Dom Guzman
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