Viktor Klyachko believes that maintaining a healthy business community is essential to progress. “Business is what propels the world forward,” he says.
Klyachko is the founder of Green Ignite, a company based in Utica, New York, that provides LED lighting systems to wholesalers throughout the Northeast. Launched in 2013, Green Ignite had $1.6 million in sales last year and employs seven people—five of them native-born—with an eighth employee coming onboard soon.
Born in Ukraine, Klyachko didn’t discover his love of entrepreneurship until he was in college in the United States. (His family first came to America as Jewish refugees in 1997, when he was 12 years old.) As a child, Klyachko always assumed he would follow in the footsteps of his father and grandfather by becoming an engineer. But after attending business school at Babson College in Boston, Klyachko became inspired by America’s culture of innovation.
The U.S. has the most innovative companies in the world, and the reason is that there are so many different viewpoints and cultures that cut through the traditional ways of thinking.
“What’s cool about entrepreneurship is that it’s about creating something new, or improving and building on something,” he says. “I think that, in today’s world, one of the most important things is to make sure that businesses are healthy so they can innovate and make progress in the world.”
After graduating, Klyachko discovered the enormous potential of LED lighting. LED lights, he explained, are substantially more efficient than even fluorescent and compact fluorescent lights. They are also extremely long-lasting and durable, with the ability to withstand both heat and cold.
That translates to a sizable cost savings for businesses, as power bills drop. For a commercial or industrial building that runs lights for eight hours a day, the payback period for an LED installation’s upfront cost is usually under two years, says Klyachko. After that, the business owner can enjoy the reduced power bills with very minimal additional costs.
“It’s a very good investment,” he says.
When it comes to creating successful startups, U.S. immigrants have an impressive track record. A 2016 study from the National Foundation for American Policy found that immigrants have started more than half—51 percent—of U.S. startup companies valued at $1 billion or more.
Green Ignite isn’t at that point yet, but it is off to an impressive start. After financing the company’s initial inventory with a $30,000 loan from his parents, Klyachko repaid them in full a year and a half later. The business continued to expand, so in 2016, realizing he needed more inventory to keep up, Klyachko secured a $50,000 loan guaranteed by the U.S. Small Business Administration through M&T bank.
But Klyachko hasn’t let success go to his head, understanding that in order to thrive in today’s fast-moving environment, he must stay vigilant. “A company is a living, breathing thing,” he says. “It’s like a baby. You have to take care of it every day. If you don’t, or if you make one wrong move, it can go downhill very fast.”
Klyachko, who became a citizen in 2004, is extremely grateful that his family had the opportunity to come to this country. He believes in immigration reform that makes it possible for people from other cultures to have the same chance to come to the United States and make their own contributions.
“Immigration is part of the history and culture of this country,” he said. “The U.S. has the most innovative companies in the world, and the reason is that there are so many different viewpoints and cultures that cut through the traditional ways of thinking. I think that works hand-in-hand with innovation. In the United States, it’s a lot easier to think of a better way to do something.”