British immigrant Foulis Peacock has already made one fortune, turning the HR publication he founded, DiversityInc, into a $10-million business before selling his stake in 2009. Now he’s looking to repeat the success by launching Immigrant Business, a web based company serving America’s immigrant entrepreneurs. It’s a success story that he says would only have been possible in America. “In the U.K., if you tell people you’re self employed, they think you can’t get a proper job,” he says. “Here it’s applauded: America’s greatest heroes are its entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurship is part of America’s DNA.”
Born in Leeds, an industrial city in northern England, Foulis Peacock had to fight for respect as he began his career. With limited prospects available in Leeds, he moved to London, where he worked on Fleet Street selling ads for the Daily Express, a national newspaper. But he found himself viewed with suspicion because of his Yorkshire accent. “I was never invited home for Sunday dinner,” he recalls.
Leaving your home country and coming to a new one for opportunity is the ultimate entrepreneurial act.
That changed in 1990, when Peacock gained a green card through a family connection and came to the United States to New York City. Almost immediately, Peacock felt at home. “People were so open, so welcoming,” he recalls. “The attitude was, ‘Hey, you’re in the United States, good luck, glad you’re here.’ It was 180 degrees different than London.”
In speaking with foreign-born entrepreneurs across the United States, Peacock says he’s heard similar stories countless times, and has been struck by the degree to which immigrants believe in the American Dream: “It doesn’t matter whether you’re coming from Pakistan or Nigeria or the U.K.—we all grew up thinking, ‘Look, I want to come to America.’ It really represents opportunity.”
Part of Peacock’s goal with Immigrant Business is to show that immigrants are natural entrepreneurs. “Leaving your home country and coming to a new one for opportunity is the ultimate entrepreneurial act,” he says. “The very fact that you’re emigrating because you’re optimistic and believe in yourself and in the place you’re going to, that, in itself, is an entrepreneurial act.” Native-born Americans might fret that their country is heading in the wrong direction, but immigrants remain relentlessly upbeat. “We’re the people who believe in this country,” Peacock says. “That’s why we’ve packed up everything and left jobs and careers, and families, and networks to come here.”
Despite that, Peacock says few Americans realize how big a contribution immigrants are making. “You say ‘immigrant’ and immediately Americans think of undocumented immigrants. What we’re doing is trying to take it back and say, ‘No, more than one in 10 jobs are created by immigrants,’” he says. In fact, Peacock notes, immigrants create businesses at about twice the rate of native-born Americans. “And those businesses create jobs,” he says. “They’re increasing the tax base and revitalizing lost cities and lost neighborhoods.” He points to the nearby city of Edison, New Jersey, which is known for its Indian immigrants. “It was a town on its heels. Then the Indians came in and created businesses, and the city’s booming now,” he says. “Immigrant entrepreneurs are a massive economic development engine for them.”
It does so much damage to talk about America as not being welcoming to immigrants because we’re missing out on people who’ll come here and create jobs.
The risk in the current political climate, Peacock says, is that anti-immigrant rhetoric will lead would-be immigrants to start looking elsewhere. “How many potential entrepreneurs are sitting there thinking, ‘Well, I’ll go to Australia or Canada instead?’” he asks. “Are we missing out on the next Apple? Or just someone who comes here and starts a small business and employs 20 people? It does so much damage to talk about America as not being welcoming to immigrants because we’re missing out on people who’ll come here and create jobs.”
Instead of railing against immigrants, America should be rolling out the welcome mat, Peacock argues, perhaps by creating a dedicated, hassle-free visa category for entrepreneurs. “What I say to Americans is, ‘Look, this is the greatest entrepreneurial class or demographic that you’ve ever seen,’” he says. “They believe in America, they’re hungry for America, and they’re creating jobs for Americans. Immigrant entrepreneurs are a massive asset for America.”