Hi-Tech Innovator Wants to Expand Into U.S. — Immigration Policy Makes That Difficult

After suffering long-term shoulder pain, serial entrepreneur Mark Yu started a company — U-Gym Technology — to solve the problem of chronic pain. The Taiwanese-American founder, who was born in Honolulu but raised in Taiwan, developed an app-controlled device that make the muscles contract and release using transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, known as TENS. His TENS device soothes sore muscles passively, using technology, instead of through time-intensive and expensive physical therapy.

“Our device is really portable, meaning that people can use it anytime they want: On the subway, on the way to work, at the gym, on an airplane, or even during a meeting or while talking to someone,” says Yu. It replaces other TENS devices, which require a prescription. Now anyone who spends long days sitting at a desk or typing on a laptop can easily feel relief.

U-Gym is Yu’s fifth startup and the third company he has owned. That’s not unusual for immigrants, who are over-represented among entrepreneurs in America. In fact, the 2.9 million immigrant entrepreneurs in the United States employ around 5.9 million people. They bring new jobs, ideas, and wealth to the nation.

If you want to start a great business with great potential, you definitely need different talents. Americans alone might not be enough.

After growing up in Taiwan and getting his master’s degree in computer science and information systems at New York University, Yu founded a company that sold construction materials, and worked in sales for both ADT Securities and Novartis Pharmaceutical. In 2006, he returned to Taiwan to work with a semiconductor company and gained experience developing hardware and marketing products in China and Southeast Asia. He launched U-Gym in 2014. In late 2017, he plans to launch a U.S. headquarters for the company in San Francisco. “America has a huge market,” he says. “There are lots of opportunities to discover.”

Today, seven Taiwanese and Taiwanese-Americans work at U-Gym Technology in Taiwan, and Yu aspires to hire a mix of U.S. citizens and U.S.-trained international workers at the San Francisco office. But restrictive U.S. immigration policies may stand in his way. For example, he would like to hire a Spanish citizen — a recent MBA graduate of Long Island University university — for an account management and on-site U-Gym trainer position. Even if Yu did have the money to sponsor a foreign employee, a process that is prohibitively expensive for many new companies, annual visa caps pose another barrier. “It is getting really hard. For companies trying to hire an employee who does not have status, it can be nearly impossible,” he says.

Yu points to the fact that some of the most highly successful companies of our time, like Apple, Twitter, and Facebook, all use a blend of talented workers from different countries. There is power in that, Yu says. “I think that is how you create a great business. You need a mixed ethnic group. Different people have different specific skills. If you want to start a great business with great potential, you definitely need different talents. Americans alone might not be enough.”

About NAE

New American Economy is a bipartisan research and advocacy organization fighting for smart federal, state, and local immigration policies that help grow our economy and create jobs for all Americans. More…