In 1989, when Michael Burtov was nine, his family fled anti-Jewish persecution in the Soviet Union and resettled as refugees in Lynn, Massachusetts. “There was a lot of anti-Soviet, anti-Russian sentiment at the time, and I was bullied,” he recalls. But he was determined to seize American opportunity.
After graduating from Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass, Burtov served in the Peace Corps, worked for the Bill Clinton Foundation, and earned a master’s in economics and international relations from Southern New Hampshire University. After being laid off from his investment banking job during the Great Recession, he turned to entrepreneurship. “In entrepreneurship, your currency is your reputation, credibility, character,” says Burtov. “Not who you know or where you’re from.”
His three companies have generated millions. GeoOrbital, a wheel that transforms a traditional pedal-powered bicycle into an electric bike, even landed him on Shark Tank and Time magazine’s 2019 “best inventions” list.
That same year, he moved to Miami after falling in love with the community’s diverse and innovative tech scene. For instance, Burtov says the city is uniquely committed to helping underrepresented job seekers participate in the growing tech scene. He points to a municipal program (Data Science for All/Empowerment) to train and upskill workers in data science, and an app that will help streamline business licensing. “I’ve never seen this many Black, Latino, or women founders,” Burtov says. In Silicon Valley and Cambridge, “there’s so many ideas that never surface because nobody’s there, lending them a hand and saying, ‘I will give you a chance.’”
Burtov is also helping to make entrepreneurship more accessible. In addition to consulting with early-stage startups, he teaches innovation courses at the MIT Enterprise Forum and is the author of the Evergreen Startup, a book helping underrepresented founders gain access to the funding usually reserved for the white and wealthy. At present, he’s also co-leading a virtual program aiming to help more foreign-born entrepreneurs start businesses in the U.S. “People in power tend to idealize equality: giving everyone the same size ladder to reach the top of the mountain, ignoring that some people are born on a hill and others in a ditch,” he says. Miami-Dade, however, “fights for equality. Here, we try to give people the exact size ladder they need.”