Despite Immigration Hurdles, British Entrepreneur Builds Successful Start-Up in St. Louis

Amit Kothari is the exact sort of entrepreneur that many cities would love to attract to their area.  With a degree in computer science, the United Kingdom native has been at the helm of various start-ups, including one that helps individuals find quotes online and another that creates newspapers for events like weddings, conferences, and parties.  More recently, Kothari founded the firm Tallyfy.com. Tallyfy’s product is a customized, online dashboard that allows companies to manage the many steps involved in repetitive tasks like client on-boarding and guided compliance checks. “We look at non-life threatening processes,” Kothari explains, “and give companies a way to ensure that they are actually followed and done properly.”

Amit Kothari

Photo Credit: Maria Louise

However, despite his success, Kothari found it challenging to move to America. Three years ago, while living in Chile, he won an Arch Grant, or $50,000 in funding from the city of St. Louis to move his business there.  He and his wife (and co-founder), Pravina Pindoria, applied for a B-1 business visitor visas after receiving that funding, but were rejected because they intended to remain in America long term.  After that, they worked with a lawyer they met through the Arch Grant program to put together a petition for an E-2 investor visa; the process took five months.

Kothari says he found the E-2 visa process incredibly frustrating.  Key among his frustrations: The requirement that individuals show they have already spent money in the United States before even arriving. To satisfy that requirement, Kothari signed numerous contracts, promising to pay out salaries and contractor payments contingent upon securing his visa. His company also got U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill to write a letter of support for his visa petition.

We’ve found real happiness and success here in St. Louis. Now we just have to hope we can remain here.

Today, Kothari and his wife have more than three years left before their E-2 visas expire, but Kothari is already apprehensive about the renewal process. To renew his visa, Kothari has to remain the majority shareholder in his firm; a stipulation that could potentially put many of the funding arrangements that are typically used by tech entrepreneurs out of his reach. Nevertheless, Kothari says he fully intends to put the company ahead of his visa concerns. That means a lot of weight is resting not simply on the success—but the exponential takeoff—of his startup. “There is no way I am leaving the United States,” Kothari says, “This has to work. It has to explode like a rocket. That’s my plan.”

The good news is the company is already well on its way to reaching such a meteoric rise. Last year, Tallyfy was selected to participate in two selective Silicon Valley-based accelerators, 500 Startups and Alchemist. The firm, which Kothari says will remain based in St. Louis, has expanded meaningfully as well, creating valuable local jobs. Today Tallyfy employs the equivalent of 15 people full time, including salespeople, developers, designers, and writers. In the last year, several prominent Missouri firms have signed on as users of the product as well, including Purina and Emerson Electric. “We’ve found real happiness and success here in St. Louis,” Kothari says, “Now we just have to hope we can remain here.”

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