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Building jobs, not walls, in Silicon Valley

One topic in this election cycle that has provoked a lot of emotion and debate is immigration. To oversimplify, it comes down to whether new immigrant groups coming to the United States is a good thing or a bad thing.

I can only tell you my experience, which is that of a son of an immigrant man who left India for a shot at building a better life here in the U.S. and ultimately got his opportunity to realize this dream in Silicon Valley.

My experience is also that of an investor who has spent the past 20 years working with entrepreneurs, many of whom are brilliant, highly motivated immigrants and many of whom, like my father, came to this country from South Asia seeking the opportunity to do something better.

The story of these immigrant entrepreneurs is the same as my father’s. He came to the United States more than 50 years ago to complete his education in science and engineering. After school, he got a job, worked insanely hard, and eventually was offered an opportunity to take over a startup company that was on the verge of bankruptcy.

Not everyone’s dream job, but for my father, it was the chance fully engage with the economic system and the country he had come to truly call his own. He took that startup teetering close to collapse, from 10 employees to several thousand employees, and from near financial insolvency to several hundred million in revenue.

And my father’s story is not so unusual. A study last March by the non-partisan Center for American Policy found that immigrants have started more than half (44 of 87) of America’s startup companies valued at $1 billion dollars or more as of January of this year.

 

The Indian immigrant founders of companies in the Lightspeed portfolio like Informatica, which invented the market for business intelligence datamarts in the late 1990s; or Brocade, which developed one of the first Fiber Channel networking switches for storage area networks (a foundational technology for modern computing); or Kosmix, the topic search engine that powers all of Walmart’s research and development, have contributed billions of dollars and hundreds of jobs to the American economy.

My father never set aside his Indian culture, but boy did he love a great 4th of July celebration and a massive Thanksgiving meal. One of the proudest days of his life (he passed away two years ago) was when he became a naturalized citizen.

Most of the people I’ve worked with in Silicon Valley who arrived as immigrants, came here because they believed in the American system and the American dream. Like my father, they were never given a chance in their home country, and they believed that not only would the U.S. welcome them, it would give them a fair shot unlike so many other places in the world.

That opportunity to succeed, to be the best that your talent and intellect allows, is a powerful motivator. It is why the United States has been a beacon for the smartest, most creative, most innovative and driven people you can find.

And when those people come here and do succeed, as a group they have amazing loyalty to the country. They literally give their all to the new businesses they join almost as a matter of principal. Their drive to give back is tied up in proving to anyone and everyone that the U.S. wasn’t wrong to let them come here and make this country their new home.

They absolutely continue to carry with them their cultural heritage (which has always been the American way), but in terms of their personal ambition, it is to fully embrace and adopt the U.S. market-based systems and to build companies that can have a real impact in the world.

They believe deeply in the merit-based, “color-blind” system that the U.S. has always stood for (even if it’s not perfect) because often they have experienced some form of persecution or class-based discrimination that capped their opportunity in their home country.

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