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10 amazing US-based startups founded by immigrants from emerging markets

An article published by The Economist earlier this year, quoted research by the pressure group, Partnership for a New American Economy, which found that some 40% of Fortune 500 firms were founded by immigrants or their children. An earlier report in 2011 entitled Immigrant Founders and Key Personnel in America’s 50 Top Venture-Funded Companies concluded that more than half of America’s top 50 private venture-funded companies — as ranked by Down Jones VentureSource — were founded by immigrants.

America’s immigration policies have taken the spotlight recently as Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg called for immigration reform with the launch of which enjoys backing from Silicon Valley heavyweights such as Marissa Mayer, Eric Schmidt, Bill Gates, and Steve Ballmer. is calling for comprehensive immigration reform that begins with effective border security, allows a path to citizenship and lets the US companies attract the most talented and hardest-working people, no matter where they were born.

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According to research published by the Kauffman Foundation, startups in Silicon Valley founded by immigrants have fallen from 52% to 44% since 2005 and overall, America is seeing a decline for the first time in decades. The theory is that entrepreneurs are finding it difficult to find permanent residency because of strict government regulation.

With this in mind, we decided to take a look at which US-based startups were founded by emerging market immigrants — may it spur US immigration reform and inspire entrepreneurs from the BRICS and beyond to dream big.

US startups founded by emerging market immigrants
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Instagram co-founder Mike Krieger was born in Brazil and moved to California in 2004 where he, together with Kevin Systrom, founded the world's favourite photo sharing site. With only 12 employees, Instagram was later bought by Facebook for just under US$1-billion.


South African entrepreneur Elon Musk founded Spacex -- the space transport company -- in California. On 25 May 2012, SpaceX made history when it became the world's first privately held company to send a cargo payload, carried on the Dragon spacecraft, to the International Space Station. Musk also co-founded PayPal and Tesla Motors.


Yammer, the US-based enterprise social network, founded by South Africa's David Oliver Sacks, would later be acquired by Microsoft in July 2012. Sacks is now a corporate vice president in Microsoft’s Office Division.


Zoosk was co-founded by Iranian entrepreneur Alex Mehr. The popular online dating service based in San Francisco went on to raise more than US$40-million in venture capital, and has grown to 110 employees supporting users in 70 countries.


Thawte, the SSL certificate authority was founded in 1995 by South African Mark Shuttleworth. Verisign later acquired Thawte for US$575-million and in August 2010, Thawte became part of Symantec, when the latter acquired VeriSign's security business.


RingCentral, the Denver-based cloud phone system for businesses that replaces traditional PABX systems, is making a name for itself. Since being founded by Ukrainian Vlad Shmunis in 2011, it has grown to a staff of 74 and was named 2010 World Economic Forum Technology Pioneer.


Skillshare is a brilliant way of learning skills by means of courses not typically offered in classrooms. Indonesian-born Malcolm Ong and co-founder, Michael Karnjanaprakorn, created an online exchange for skills and services where people can learn things like "PR for Startups," or "How to Program iPhone Apps in Three Weeks."


Udemy was co-founded by Turk, Eren Bali, Oktay Caglar, and Gagan Biyani who met through the Founder Institute in 2010. The online learning platform with free and paid classes, allows instructors to host classes and often features interesting hosts like Eric Ries, author of The Lean Startup. After being rejected 30 times, Udemy finally secured US$1-million in funding, from high profile investors such as Jeremy Stoppelman (CEO of Yelp), Dave McClure, and Keith Rabois (an early investor in YouTube and LinkedIn) when the idea showed traction.


Now based in Portland and originally from India, Shamir Karkal co-founded Simple. Simple (formerly known as BankSimple) is a service that integrates with partnering banks to offer more banking options. Using the Simple Visa debit card, Simple integrates with your existing bank to offer additional services like spend tracking and analysis as well as a beautiful mobile experience. In January 2013, the company had 20 000 customers and had processed more than US$200-million in transactions. Simple has raised a total of US$13.1 million in funding.


Gyft is a mobile gift card app that allows users to store, buy, send and redeem gift cards conveniently from a smartphone or mobile device. South African Vinny Lingham, who started Gyft after resigning as CEO of his successful website builder and hosting service Yola, confirmed that Gyft has managed to raise financing from Google Ventures, 500 Startups, Founder Collective (and more).


Israeli Michal Tsur co-founded Kaltura in New York City. The goal was to create the first open source online video platform allowing users to customise their own content and enable new features. The startup secured millions of dollars in funding early on and in 2008 Kaltura secured a partnership with the Wikimedia Foundation to spread media content to Wikipedia and other wiki websites.

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