It is a well-known fact that bureaucracy can stifle progress and that even the best ideas, enterprises, and innovations can be stalled for years by having to contend with legal hoops and meet endless criteria. Few know this better than immigrant entrepreneurs who, despite being statistically some of the most effective economy-boosters and job-creators in the United States, waste years trying to advance to a visa category that would allow them to operate their businesses untethered by the current suffocating immigration rules.
One of these entrepreneurs, Jyoti Bansal of AppDynamics, an application performance management and IT operations analytics company which was recently acquired by Cisco for $3.7 billion, battled the convoluted U.S. immigration system for 7 years before finally being granted the green card that allowed him to expand his business and build a technology empire in the United States. After an uphill struggle to land a job at a startup as an H-1B visa holder, a feat unto itself, as many startups lack the resources to sponsor foreign workers, Mr. Bansal became a key employee at three tech startups. Each of these jobs taught him lessons that laid the groundwork for AppDynamics and his other recent startups. He entered each role with one outcome in mind: to one day become an entrepreneur in the prestigious Silicon Valley.
The Game-Changing Green Card
In an interview with Alejandro Cremades, Mr. Bansal said, “When I was in college back in India, and when I came here to the Silicon Valley, that (entrepreneurship) was my goal.” Although his experience as an H-1B holder was valuable, educational and gave him the connections he needed to thrive when he began founding his own companies, he admits, “It was actually a little bit hard because I came here on a work visa. On a work visa, you’re not allowed to start your own company.” Although Jyoti finally achieved his goal, the setbacks he experienced while restricted by his visa status halted his progress for the better part of a decade.
Achieving green card status let him hit the ground running, and in the 11 years since founding AppDynamics, he has gone on to start three more companies, including Harness, which launched in 2017 and now employs over 100 people, Unusual Ventures, a $160 million seed fund, and BIG Labs, a startup studio that “runs on the idea of “parallel entrepreneurialism,” meaning that multiple companies are built in tandem.” Now that he is free to live up to his entrepreneurial potential with his green card, Jyoti Bansal is creating jobs and revolutionizing the way tech is created and companies are formed.
Cisco Acquires AppDynamics – Hundreds Become Millionaires
Mr. Bansal’s persistence paid off, and, thanks to the sale of AppDynamics to Cisco for $3.7 billion, he is responsible for creating over 400 millionaires with just one deal; an economic marvel in the post-recession U.S. Jyoti Bansal’s dedication to creating a product that people will actually use came to fruition, and has visibly improved businesses and lives. He said in an interview with Forbes, “No one cares about the technology if it doesn’t solve a real business problem.”
Mr. Bansal is not only a skilled coder and keen businessman; he is also a natural leader. Jyoti has received several leadership awards, including Forbes’ “Best Cloud Computing CEO to Work For,” and “Best CEO” by San Francisco Business Times at the Annual Tech & Innovation Award. He was also named Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of The Year for Northern California in 2016. Interviewers and associates alike have been impressed by his humility and his desire to solve problems that impact people every day.
Indian American Entrepreneurs: A Multi-Billion Dollar Phenomenon
Jyoti Bansal grew up in a small town in Rajasthan, India. His father, also an entrepreneur, who sold irrigation machinery, encouraged education, and his grandfather’s library of thousands of books fed his thirst for knowledge long before he ever learned to use a computer. Working in his father’s company developed his keen business sense, and his fast-paced learning style meant that he skipped classes frequently during his tenure at the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, but quickly picked up C and Java and managed Tryst, the school’s annual technical festival. While other students focused on their GPAs, Jyoti learned to code and set his sights on Silicon Valley. He, like many other India – born entrepreneurs, recognized the opportunities there and came armed with both the creativity and work ethic to get things done.
According to a study by the National Foundation for American Policy, 14 Indian American entrepreneurs, including Mr. Bansal, have founded billion dollar “unicorn” companies valued at $19.6 billion as of 2016. Half of the billion-dollar ventures in the U.S. have at least one immigrant founder, and India tops the list of nations with the most entrepreneurs in this category. Like in Mr. Bansal’s case, it took green cards to make these economy-boosting startups possible.
Visa Woes and a Way Forward
AppDynamics, just one of these remarkable startups, employs over 900 American workers. In a climate that claims to support job creators, it’s easy to wonder why foreign-born entrepreneurs like Mr. Bansal encounter so many roadblocks on the path to success, but the truth remains that there is no visa specifically for immigrant entrepreneurs. Those who want to work in the U.S. are either tied to a single job via an H1-B or must create a business via an investment such as the E2 Treaty Investor Visa or the EB5 Direct Investment Visa. Both these visas require a substantial amount of capital to be invested and come with a laundry list of restrictions and limits, preventing many entrepreneurs from reaching their full potential as innovators and job creators, and essentially barring them from fully integrating in the U.S.
Mr. Bansal says of the current visa process, “A green card does only one thing. It allows you to legally start a business. If you’re not on a green card, you cannot legally start a business, which is completely absurd. It doesn’t make any sense to me. But once that happened, at least I had that freedom. I always had ideas that I wanted to do things better.”
Although the current political climate hasn’t done would-be immigrant entrepreneurs many favors, legislation that could change the game for economic powerhouses like Mr. Bansal has been introduced with bipartisan support. The Startup Act is intended to fuel U.S. employment by empowering the most promising potential entrepreneurs. It creates up to 75,000 startup visas for immigrant entrepreneurs that raise funds from VCs or other investors and create U.S. jobs. It also calls for a common-sense STEM visa so 50,000 U.S.- educated foreign students who earn a master’s or Ph.D. in STEM fields can gain their green card and remain in the U.S. where they can start new businesses, innovate within key fields, and create valuable jobs for U.S. workers.
Unfortunately, immigration reform efforts like the Startup Visa have been stalled by recent crackdowns on immigration, regardless of its purpose or the immigrant’s potential, and entrepreneurs have begun seeking greener pastures in friendlier countries that value their contributions. While the allure of Silicon Valley, where the right idea can go viral, and the potential is unlimited for ambitious entrepreneurs, still attracts much of the world’s best tech talent, the U.S. risks alienating those who make the nation locally successful and globally competitive. The truth is, as incredible and Jyoti Bansal’s story and the stories of his fellow Indian American entrepreneurs are, they are not anomalies. Immigrant entrepreneurs have a traceable track record of creating jobs, designing new technology, and revolutionizing whole industries. To ignore their accomplishments and continue to block their progress with restrictive legislation is self-sabotage on a national scale.
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