A few years after arriving in the United States in 2005 to work for a large multinational corporation, Indian-born entrepreneur Nitin Pachisia decided to start a company of his own in California’s Silicon Valley. U.S. immigration policy nearly got in the way of his efforts, presenting incremental challenges on top of an already tough entrepreneurial path. He spent considerable time and energy navigating the legal structure to be able to stay in the country and start his company while complying with applicable laws.
This situation—what seems to be a structural opposition to foreign-born entrepreneurs—continues to burden thousands of immigrant entrepreneurs in the United States. But for Pachisia, it also presented an opportunity. Dropping the idea of his initial company, he pivoted and decided instead to tackle the problems with immigration head-on. He now helps other immigrant entrepreneurs launch their own businesses in the United States through Unshackled Ventures, a pre-seed venture capital firm Pachisia founded in April 2014—and they have seen exciting developments in just two years.
15 companies backed by Unshackled have already created over 50 jobs.
As a young fund, the company judges success by two factors: job creation and growth. Pachisia says that more than half of the companies backed by Unshackled Ventures are already in revenue-generating mode. “With anywhere from $100,000 to $400,000 in investment, these companies have built really strong products,” he said. “They’ve been able to sell to large customers, and in some cases, sign million dollar deals.”
According to Pachisia, 15 companies backed by Unshackled have already created over 50 jobs. “That’s a big success metric for us,” he said, noting that within a timespan of a single year, the venture has closed 15 investments with 28 founders. About a third of the founders are U.S. citizens or permanent residents, while the other half hail from six continents, and are on six different types of visa. “I personally know dozens of people who would make great founders but they are instead working for large companies, waiting for their green cards,” Pachisia has noted.
Today, his venture fund has reviewed over 1,300 immigrant-founded companies, and annually invests in about a dozen that fit the investment criteria. Unlike other venture capital firms that may only provide capital, Unshackled Ventures offers employment and immigration support to portfolio founders. This gives founders the ability to leave their current employers without being forced to leave the U.S or risking deportation.
Each one of these founders represents an opportunity to do something great.
“Unshackled Ventures was a very obvious name in multiple ways,” Pachisia said. “It’s not just the idea of unshackling from the visa process, but more importantly, to start unshackling opportunities. Each one of these founders represents an opportunity to do something great. Which one of these companies is going to become the next Google, Facebook, Uber, or a major life science discovery company? We don’t know. We won’t know what they could be until they’re given the opportunity. The bigger purpose for us is about unshackling opportunities and letting entrepreneurs pursue their dreams.”
The support Unshackled Ventures provides is important. Over time, the percentage of Silicon Valley start-ups founded by immigrants has gradually waned, and Pachisia points to U.S. immigration policy and a lack of an immigrant-focused funding model.
According to a study from the Kauffman Foundation, until 2005, over 50 percent of new startup companies in Silicon Valley had at least one immigrant founder. From 2006 to 2015, that percentage declined to 44 percent. “This decrease is not because citizens suddenly started founding more companies. It’s because the environment for foreign-born entrepreneurs to start companies in the U.S., stay here, and build their businesses became more difficult,” Pachisia said. The decline points to a problem—other countries have recognized the opportunity inherent in the outdated American laws and have become more aggressive in recruiting talent. Canada, Singapore, New Zealand, Australia, and India are all becoming start-up hubs, attracting entrepreneurs to come and build companies.
“We strongly believe that the foreign-born entrepreneurs who are selected by the U.S. school and corporate system are among the most talented people in the world,” Pachisia says. “When foreign-born entrepreneurs want to start their own companies and help the economy by creating more jobs, U.S. policies, funding structures, and ecosystems should encourage them to stay here and build these companies here.”