Imagine moving to a new country for an exciting new job. But there’s a snag: Since you have no credit history, you cannot lease a car, get a loan, or even rent an apartment. Financial tech entrepreneur Misha Esipov, 28, wants to solve the international credit problem. His solution is Nova Credit, Inc., a Stanford University-backed business, that aims to provide access to credit for foreign-born citizens living in the United States. It’s the world’s first cross-border credit reporting agency.
The absence of a credit history plagues everyone from first-time borrowers to successful international executives with decades of debt history overseas. “There are no systems in place that allow immigrants to bring their credit history with them,” Esipov says. “We’ve created what’s called a credit passport. It’s almost like a credit report that can travel with you.” With help from a team of credit experts, banks, and data scientists, Nova Credit Inc.
has already established partnerships with multi-billion dollar lenders in the United States.
By helping provide what Esipov calls a “softer landing” through access to capital, the income potential of new immigrants can be accelerated. “We’re actually linking credit history databases around the world,” Esipov explains. “Success for us involves making the immigration process easier and more seamless. We’re starting here in the U.S., but the bigger vision is creating the first global web of credit data, not only data coming to the U.S., but U.S. data going back to other countries, too.”
And although Nova Credit has already raised capital and turned heads, including a coveted spot in a few selective accelerators, Esipov himself just graduated from Stanford’s business school in May 2016. That’s where the idea for the company started. At Stanford’s entrepreneurship program, Esipov met his two co-founders, Nicky Goulimis and Loek Janssen, who are also immigrants. As the only U.S. citizen of the three, Esipov has seen firsthand the limited options for ambitious young international entrepreneurs who want to remain in the United States after graduate school. This problem is a real concern for Nova Credit.
“I’m now running a business out here in California and my two co-founders are also internationals,” he says. “Watching them struggle and deal with this whole [visa] process, it’s been such a time drain. It’s such an inefficient, painful process.” For example, recently, a Nova Credit business meeting was scheduled to take place in Mexico. Both Esipov and another co-founder were supposed to attend, but U.S. immigration policy made it impossible for his colleague to leave the country. This, in turn, hurts Nova Credit –damaging relationships with potential partners and investors, incurring unnecessary costs, and creating tremendous uncertainty.
Immigration is part of the life blood of this country.
For all these reasons, Esipov says he is forced to consider moving company headquarters to Hong Kong or London. “Let’s assume the draconian scenario where my two co-founders don’t get approved to stay in this country,” he explains. “We would seriously consider moving the entire business. I would much rather be able to continue to build in the heart of Silicon Valley, where we have access to the smartest people and capital at this stage of business. But if my co-founders can’t stay in this country, then we need to figure out how to work together, and that might involve moving things offshore.”
And yet Esipov does not want to leave the United States, because his family has worked tirelessly to build successful lives here. In 1990, they left their hometown of Chernogolovka, Russia, for the United States. Both of Esipov’s parents were scientists with advanced graduate degrees from the Soviet Union, but started out with academic visas and humble jobs in the United States, despite their professional status in Russia. Esipov’s mother worked as an elementary school teacher, eventually earning a master’s degree in business. She then went on to become a recognized expert in sociology and migration-related research, and is now a senior executive at the Gallup Organization. In total, Esipov says, it took 15 years for his parents to become U.S. citizens.
“I’m a big believer that immigration is part of the life blood of this country today,” he says.
“Having the luxury of being able to bring the best and brightest from around the world into this country is what powers this economy to grow and prosper the way it has for hundreds of years.” But today’s immigration policies stand in the way. With laws that better understand and aid international entrepreneurs, Esipov believes, more individuals will be able to contribute significantly to the American workforce. “I’m very pro-immigration,” he reflects, “and for opening the gates to people who will be beneficial to the growth of the U.S. economy.”