Amit Kothari is the exact sort of entrepreneur that many cities would love to attract to their area. With a degree in computer science, the United Kingdom native has been at the helm of various startups, including QuotationsBook.com — “a startup that tries to be for quotes what YouTube is to videos” — as well as MomentoServices.com, a company that creates newspapers for events like weddings, conferences, and parties. More recently, he was invited to participate in the StartUp Chile program, where he lived for seven months and built up a startup called Tallyfy.com. That product, which was inspired by reading Atul Gawande’s book about the importance of medical checklists, helps create powerful checklists that companies can use for routine business processes. “We look at non-life threatening processes,” Kothari explains, “and give companies a way to ensure that they are actually followed and done properly.”
However, despite his success, Kothari found challenging to move to America. Last summer, while still living in Chile, he won an Arch Grant, or $50,000 in funding from the city of St. Louis to move his business there. He and his wife (and co-founder), Pravina Pindoria, applied for a B-1 business visitor visas after receiving that funding, but were rejected because they intended to remain in America long term. After that, they worked with a lawyer they met through the Arch Grant program to put together a petition for an E-2 investor visa; the process took five months.
Kothari says he found the E-2 visa process incredibly frustrating. Key among his frustrations: The requirement that individuals show they have already spent money in the U.S. before even arriving, a requirement for putting capital “at risk.” “Would you ever move to Brazil if they told you that to get a visa you need to spend $100,000 of your own money in the country before you even have any guarantee that you actually have a visa?” Kothari asks, “Of course not. That is completely crazy! But those are the sorts of frustrations we were facing.” To get around it, he signed numerous contracts, promising to pay out salaries and contracts to companies and individuals contingent upon getting his E-2 visa. His company got U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill to write a letter of support for his visa petition.
Today, Tallyfy is settled in the T-Rex office space, a shared space for startups, in downtown St. Louis, Missouri. Kothari’s firm has one summer intern lined up to work, and has outsourced its HR, marketing, and legal to various firms here in St. Louis. “I know we’re supporting and creating jobs within companies here in St. Louis,” Kothari says. He also sees the future for his company as bright. “My wife and I are incredibly driven, and we’ve devoted two years of our life to this startup,” Kothari says, “We see that this company has the potential to be huge in the next year.” The product is still in beta testing, but Kothari has already received a commitment from one of St. Louis’s largest companies to use it.
Kothari also says they’ve found incredibly friendly people in St. Louis and are happy there. “We’ve found a real happiness in St. Louis,” Kothari says. He wishes, however, that his visa offered more of a path to citizenship—some people stay on the E-2 indefinitely. “When you’re in the world of startups, you’re almost blind to the future, you live in the now,” Kothari says, “it does make us concerned though that we don’t know we can build a future here.”