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International Students Who Changed America


© Kevin Alfred Strom/National Vanguard
Ever used Zoosk, the online dating community?

Or traded files with classmates or teachers on Dropbox, an online storage service? Dream of owning a Tesla one day or flying to the moon on SpaceX?

All those companies have a common thread: Their founders were immigrants or first-generation immigrants. And many founders of successful U.S. companies were international students at American universities first.

Elon Musk, Founder of SpaceX and Tesla
Elon Musk, Founder of SpaceX and Tesla


The founders of SpaceX/Tesla, Tanium, and Eventbrite came to the United States as international students, and the founders of Zoosk, Bijan, and Tango came to the United States as immigrants.

Elon Musk, South African-born founder of SpaceX and Tesla, moved to Canada for two years of his undergraduate career before transferring to the University of Pennsylvania to graduate. Musk started his career as the co-founder of PayPal after merging his company X.com with tech company Confinity before innovating transportation on Earth and in space.

David Hindawi was born in Iraq and raised in Israel but came to the United States to attain his Ph.D. from the University of California-Berkeley in operations research. He sold his first company to IBM for $400 million and released his cybersecurity company, Tanium, with his son immediately after.



The 44 immigrant-founded multi-billion dollar companies have a combined value of $168 billion, about half the stock market value of Mexico or Russia.

"Nearly one-quarter (20) of the $87 billion U.S. startup companies -– and almost half of the companies with an immigrant founder -– had a founder who first came to America as an international student," according to the National Foundation for American Policy.

"Research has found that 62 of the 87 companies, or 71 percent, had at least one immigrant helping the company grow and innovate by filling a key management or product development position."


The International Innovators Initiative through the City University of New York aims to create a pathway for international students who have founded their businesses while on student visas or afterwards to "build their businesses...alongside other innovators while using their areas of expertise to contribute to campus life through activities such as participation in academic research and mentorship of student entrepreneurs," as stated in their website.

Bijan Pakzad, Iranian immigrant and founder of Bijan Beverly Hills
Bijan Pakzad, Iranian immigrant and founder of Bijan Beverly Hills


Many universities also offer International Students and Scholar Services (ISSS), which helps international students start or create their careers after graduation. Universities like the University of Pennsylvania, American University, and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign offer comprehensive services for their international student community.



In response to the travel ban, February 16 was the "Day Without Immigrants" and many immigrants nationwide withheld from attending work or school to illustrate the impact they have on
the U.S. economy and lifestyle.

What do you think about the role international students and immigrants play in the U.S. economy? Please leave a comment here, and visit us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn, thanks!

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