Immigrant Entrepreneurship Has Stalled for the First Time in Decades, Kauffman Foundation Study Shows

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New book based on findings warns of potential dire consequences for U.S. economy and urges swift action to reverse the trend

A new Kauffman Foundation study finds that high-tech, immigrant-founded startups – a critical source of fuel for the U.S. economy – has stagnated and is on the verge of decline.

America’s New Immigrant Entrepreneurs: Then and Now” shows that the proportion of immigrant-founded companies nationwide has slipped from 25.3 percent to 24.3 percent since 2005. The drop is even more pronounced in Silicon Valley, where the percentage of immigrant-founded startups declined from 52.4 percent to 43.9 percent.

This report, which evaluated the rate of immigrant entrepreneurship from 2006 to 2012, updates findings from a 2007 study that examined immigrant-founded companies between 1995 and 2005.

“For several years, anecdotal evidence has suggested that an unwelcoming immigration system and environment in the U.S. has created a ‘reverse brain drain.’ This report confirms it with data,” said Dane Stangler, director of Research and Policy at the Kauffman Foundation. “To maintain a dynamic economy, the U.S. needs to embrace immigrant entrepreneurs.”

The implications of the research findings, conducted by Vivek Wadhwa, director of research at the Center for Entrepreneurship and Research Commercialization at the Pratt School of Engineering, Duke University; AnnaLee Saxenian, dean and professor at the Berkeley School of Information; and F. Daniel Siciliano, professor of the Practice of Law and faculty director, Rock Center for Corporate Governance; are the subject of a book being released today by Wadhwa. The Immigrant Exodus: Why America Is Losing the Global Race to Capture Entrepreneurial Talent, draws on the research to show that the United States is in the midst of a historically unprecedented halt in high-growth, immigrant-founded startups.

“The U.S. risks losing a key growth engine just when the economy needs job creators more than ever,” said Wadhwa. “The U.S. can reverse these trends with changes in policies and opportunities, if it acts swiftly. It is imperative that we create a startup visa for these entrepreneurs and expand the number of green cards for skilled foreigners to work in these startups. Many immigrants would gladly remain in the United States to start and grow companies that will lead to jobs.”

With funding from the Kauffman Foundation, Wadhwa has launched a website – ImmigrantExodus.com– as a resource for journalists and a voice for immigrant entrepreneurs.

From the 107,819 engineering and technology companies founded in the last six years, the study examined a random sample of 1,882 companies in a nationwide survey. Of those companies, 458 had at least one foreign-born founder.

The exceptions to this downward trend were immigrants from India. Although founders in the study hailed from more than 60 countries, 33.2 percent of them were Indian, an increase of 7 percent in 2005. Indians, in fact, founded more of the engineering and technology firms than immigrants born in the next nine immigrant-founder countries combined.

After India, immigrant founders represented China (8.1 percent), the United Kingdom (6.3 percent), Canada (4.2 percent), Germany (3.9 percent), Israel (3.5 percent), Russia (2.4 percent), Korea (2.2 percent), Australia (2.0 percent) and the Netherlands (2.0 percent).

While immigrant entrepreneurship has stagnated, the rates of Indian and Chinese startups have increased. In 2005, Indians and Chinese entrepreneurs accounted for 26.0 percent and 6.9 percent of immigrant-founded companies, respectively.

Immigrant-founded firms were most likely to be located in traditional immigration gateway states: California (31 percent), Massachusetts (9 percent), Texas (6 percent), Florida (6 percent), New York (5 percent) and New Jersey (5 percent). Indian founders tended to establish businesses in California, New Jersey and Massachusetts, and Chinese founders showed a propensity to start companies in California and Maryland. Except for Germans, who most often chose Ohio as the location for their startups, all immigrant groups displayed a preference for establishing businesses in California.

Immigrant founders, who are most likely to start companies in the innovation/manufacturing-related services (45 percent) and software (22 percent) industries, employed about 560,000 workers and generated an estimated $63 billion in sales from 2006 to 2012, underscoring the continuing importance of high-skilled immigrants to U.S. economic expansion.

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About the Kauffman Foundation
The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation is a private nonpartisan foundation that works to harness the power of entrepreneurship and innovation to grow economies and improve human welfare. Through its research and other initiatives, the Kauffman Foundation aims to open young people's eyes to the possibility of entrepreneurship, promote entrepreneurship education, raise awareness of entrepreneurship-friendly policies, and find alternative pathways for the commercialization of new knowledge and technologies. In addition, the Foundation focuses on initiatives in the Kansas City region to advance students’ math and science skills, and improve the educational achievement of urban students, including the Ewing Marion Kauffman School, a college preparatory charter school for middle and high school students. Founded by late entrepreneur and philanthropist Ewing Marion Kauffman, the Foundation is based in Kansas City, Mo., and has approximately $2 billion in assets. For more information, visit http://www.kauffman.org, and follow the Foundation on http://www.twitter.com/kauffmanfdn and http://www.facebook.com/kauffmanfdn.

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