The Immigrants’ Edge

What do Elon Musk (Tesla), Eric Yuan (Zoom), Arianna Huffington (Huffington Post), Andy Grove (Intel), Ray Kroc (McDonald’s), and Sergey Brin (Google) have in common? In addition to their business success, they are all immigrants or children of immigrants.

The names above are only a few in an endless list of highly skilled immigrants who have been remarkably successful in the world of technology and business entrepreneurship. Consider the following statistics:

  • One out of every four U.S. tech companies established since 1995 was founded by an immigrant.
  • 60 percent of the 25 most highly valued tech companies were co-founded by first or second generation immigrants. 
  • 43 percent of businesses on the U.S. Fortune 500 list were launched by immigrants or children of immigrants.
  • In 2016, 83 percent of the winners of the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair were children of immigrants.

From “This Land is our Land: An immigrant Manifesto” by Suketu Mehta
(Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2019) p. 198.

These statistics are especially remarkable when one considers the fact that immigrants account for only 13 percent of the U.S. population. Clearly that 13 percent includes a high percentage of leaders, visionaries, and entrepreneurs.

One must wonder: why are these people so successful? There is no doubt that “the land of opportunity” attracts talent and boosts the trend. This fact alone, however, does not account for the staggering statistics.

The Bicultural Advantage

Academic studies show that there are many advantages to being “bicultural,” a term that refers to a person who possesses the values, norms and perspectives of at least two different cultures. Consider how fluency in two languages, the ability to understand different perspectives and function in separate social structures is almost like having two sets of life skills. Being bicultural naturally broadens perspective, fosters creativity, increases problem-solving skills, and the list goes on. People with such abilities blaze new paths that drive technological advances.

In my work over the years, I have encountered many families moving internationally, and I often tell them that they are in for a great adventure: learning a new language and culture is only the beginning. The children in these families are receiving a great gift; it may be that the next technological breakthrough comes from one of these bicultural children!

If you have always lived in the same culture and will never have the opportunity to live in another, don’t despair! A new world with new perspectives is probably closer than you think: you can learn much from your international neighbor or co-worker.

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