American Entrepreneurs

by Mickayla Zinsli

Immigrants have played a key role in starting some of America’s most iconic brands such as Google, eBay, Intel, and Procter & Gamble. Perhaps this is because there is something inherently entrepreneurial about leaving your home and starting a new life in a different country.

When discussing the benefits of the EB-5 program, we focus most of our attention on calculating the dollars invested, jobs created, or even the investment’s impact on  gross domestic product.  Certainly, these are all impressive metrics, but maybe we are overlooking the greater impact of welcoming these foreign investors and their families into America.

Throughout history, immigrants have been disproportionally more entrepreneurial than native-born Americans.

In 2012, immigrants were almost twice as likely to start a business. [1] Even more impressive is the percentage of Fortune 500 companies founded by immigrants or their children. In 2012, 18 percent of Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants. Taking into account  the children of immigrants, this number jumps to 40 percent, or 114 companies, on the list.

This is even more surprising  given that  immigrants have made up only 10.5 percent of the American population on average since 1850. These entrepreneurial ventures and new businesses have made  significant impacts on local economies as well as the nation.  Considering just  Fortune 500 companies,  those backed by immigrants or their children employed more than 3.6 million people and had combined revenues of $4.2 trillion. [2]

This seems to be a  highly entrepreneurial group of individuals. One out of ten immigrant workers owns a business (10 percent) and 620 out of 100,000 immigrants (0.62 percent) start a business each month,  according to the U.S. Small Business Administration.[3] From  2000 to  2016, a total of  55,294 EB-5 visas were issued.[4]  Take, for example, the stories of the following EB-5 investors:

Robert Onnes

Originally from New Zealand, EB-5 investor Robert Onnes always had a passion for large-scale art work, making a name for himself as a sculptor in New Zealand.  Onnes and his wife, Helen Opie, moved to Detroit, Michigan, permanently in March 2014 and began to realize his vision by investing in and rehabilitating  a building in Detroit with a vision to bring back to life a historic factory, formerly known as the Lewis Metal Stamping and Manufacturing Plant. . Immigrating to the United States provided the freedom to unleash this passion. The facility now provides 13 artists and sculptors a space to work and build their artistic careers. .

Dr. Shubh Gautam

Meanwhile on the West Coast, Dr. Shubh Gautam has made California his home. Known in his industry as a pioneer in sealing technologies for beverage manufacturers like Pepsi and Coca-Cola, Dr. Gautam hoped to see greater opportunities for his company after immigrating. Dr. Gautam’s company, Srisol, serves clients globally in a variety of ways, including chemicals to strengthen steel and sealing systems for medications, beverages, and food. The company has offices in India, South Africa, London, UAE, and now, through Dr. Gautam’s EB-5 investment, the U.S. Dr. Gautam was featured in Saluting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship in which he explained, “This journey [of entrepreneurship] has not been one without many storms that came in the way, and they are these storms only that teach you. Once the storm is over, you won't remember how you made it through or how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain—when you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That's what this storm is all about. Competing [against] and beating Fortune 50 companies via manufacturing of knowledge products was not an easy ride if they did not believe in being hungry and foolish.” [5]

Marie Bonner

As Marie Bonner sees it, “Choosing to immigrate was scarier than starting a business.” After a year of volunteering at a high-risk boy’s ranch in Missouri, Bonner found inspiration repurposing second-hand clothing into new designs, often drawing inspiration from vintage items to create custom wedding dresses and other clothing items. Prior to immigrating through the EB-5 program in 2009, Bonner worked in the medical field and made a hobby of creating greeting cards and websites. She invested in the 618 2nd Avenue project with American Life in Seattle. Only after immigrating would she let her creative passions lead her down a new career path, “I would not be able to do this if I had stayed [in Great Britain],” Bonner says.


In the wake of the proposed September 30, 2016 sunset of the EB-5 Regional Center Program, let’s  keep the bigger picture in mind when discussing the positive impacts of EB-5 investments. After all, the next Google could be started by an EB-5 investor.


[1] Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity 1996-2012, Robert W. Fairlie, April 2013, Kauffman Foundation, http://www.kauffman.org/~/media/kauffman_org/research%20reports%20and%20covers/2013/04/kiea_2013_report.pdf.   

[2] The New American “Fortune 500,” Partnership for a New American Economy, June 2011, http://www.renewoureconomy.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/new-american-fortune-500-june-2011.pdf.  

[4] http://member.iiusa.org/system/files/attachments/IIUSA%20Data%20Report%20-%20EB-5%20Visa%20Usage%20%282010-2016%20Q2%29.pdf

[5] SALUTING THE SPIRIT OF ENTREPRENEURSHIP, First published in India, 2016,

A division of Bennett, Coleman & Co. Ltd., The Times of India, 10 Daryaganj, New Delhi.



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