This year's Presidential election is going to be, at least in part, a referendum on America's openness to immigrants. Are the people who come from other countries a drag on the economy--because they consume resources and steal American jobs--or are they a net gain? Inc.com's 2016 "How I Did It" special report strongly suggests an answer. While we never set out to take a side on that question in putting together the report, it just came out that way.
It all starts with the story of Robert Herjavec, co-star of Shark Tank and co-founder of cybersecurity company Herjavec Group. Immigrating to Canada from Croatia at age 8, he says, shaped him both as a person and as an entrepreneur. "When you don't speak the language or have any money, kids make fun of you," he explains to Inc.'s Liz Welch. "I would say to my mom, 'Nobody's nice to me, and all these kids have better lives than me.' My mom would reply, 'Nobody in this world is better than you, but you are no better than anyone else.' That inspired me to get out there and kick some butt and make something of myself." The Toronto-based Herjavec Group employs 250 people (many in the U.S.), and Robert Herjavec has 16 active American investments and more on the way. Sounds to me like a net gain.
Herjavec isn't the only entrepreneur whose story caught our attention for "How I Did It" this year and who happened to be born elsewhere. Of the 15 entrepreneurs featured in our package, five are from outside the United States, counting Herjavec. The others are Milk's Mazdack Rassi, FanDuel's Nigel Eccles, Toni Ko of NYX, and Kun Gao of Crunchyroll. (And the two founders who are the focus of another fascinating feature that just went live, "The Mind Readers" by Tom Foster, also show outside influence: Rana June's parents came from Iran, and Rana el Kaliouby emigrated from Egypt.)
Actually, a wealth of foreign-born founders in a publication devoted to entrepreneurs shouldn't be all that surprising, given the well-known tendency for immigrants to start companies at a much higher rate than native-born Americans. According to a new study from the National Foundation for American Policy, the majority of private companies valued at $1 billion or more had at least one immigrant founder. That, too, sounds like a net gain.
Luckily for us Americans, people with the guts, focus, and grit to be entrepreneurs still want to come to here to take their shot. As Herjavec puts it, "Whenever I go outside of America, [I am reminded that] people equate this country with opportunity. It's not just the American dream--it's everyone's dream." Voters in the UK's Brexit referendum just made it clear that foreigners were no longer welcome to pursue the universal dream in England. Mark Cuban points out Brexit is fine for the US, since it just means more entrepreneurs for us.
That is, unless American voters in the Presidential election make the same mistake. Inc.com editors didn't plan to comment on immigration policy in assembling this year's "How I Did It" special report, but surely after reading about the entrepreneurs in the report who've adopted this country as their home, you at least have to ask: Will walling such people out really make America great?