Growing up in southern India, Jeevan Pendli saw the effects of insufficient healthcare in poor neighborhoods and rural towns. What he didn’t expect, however, was to see the same thing when he moved to the United States – rural populations just 15 minutes from where he was living in Pittsburgh who weren’t living as long because they didn’t have access to proper healthcare. Pendli had experience in the field – he’d worked for healthcare giants GlaxoSmithKline and CIGNA as well as for non-profits focused on improving women’s healthcare. It wasn’t until he was an MBA student at Carnegie Mellon, however, that he realized he could make a difference in this field by starting his own company and effecting change through entrepreneurship.
The startup – an application for mobile devices called PHRQL (pronounced ‘freckle’), connects medical professionals to patients and patients to each other, providing real-time information and creating a network of support and sharing among those who use it. The idea immediately garnered attention – Pendli and his co-founders were featured in the local media, got plenty of funding, and were invited to prestigious healthcare summits around the country. Soon they were in local pharmacies and expanding rapidly. But since graduation in 2011, Pendli has been struggling to find a way to stay in this country. Despite his entrepreneurial success, he was only able to get a temporary visa, and he saw little hope for a green card. “I was very stressed, I couldn’t focus on the company,” he says. Eventually the stress was too much. Even though he loved PHRQL, Pendli decided to take a job with a large company, one that could sponsor a green card for him. Though he still tries to be involved with PHRQL on some level, he was forced to give it up so that he could be sure of a future here in the United States.
Yet four years later, Pendli is still waiting for a green card. He hasn’t seen his parents in two years because he is afraid of going back to India; he has seen too many friends get stuck trying to re-enter the country, no matter their visa. Currently, he lives with his wife, who is preparing to start her medical residency in Detroit. Pendli’s education, skills, and reputation have made him a target for startups in Detroit looking to recruit fresh talent to help revitalize the city, but because of his immigration situation and the current laws he has to turn them down. Pendli pays taxes and is steadily paying off his student loans every month. He has spent ten years and an estimated $50,000 on visa and green card applications. The time, money, and frustration are starting to impact his desire to stay in the United States, and he is not the only one. “Right now,” he says, “people are taking their U.S. education back to their home country to do different things. The world is becoming flatter. We might lose some great companies.”