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Is immigration the key to innovation?

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When it comes to tech innovation, there’s little debate about where the global hub is. Even today, with Asia ascendant, it’s hard to deny that Silicon Valley is still the center of the tech universe. But paradoxically, America’s tech dominance might be precisely because many of the people in America’s entrepreneurial circles aren’t originally Americans.

A new study from the National Foundation for American Policy (NFAP) released last week revealed that just over half of America’s billion-dollar startups – half of American unicorns – were founded by immigrants rather than native-born Americans. Companies founded by immigrants also created the most jobs, the study found.

The list, unsurprisingly, includes some of Asia’s best and brightest. NFAP found 19 American startup founders who had immigrated from Asian countries including Singapore, South Korea, and China. India, with a whopping 14 founders on the list, produced more American unicorn founders than any other country (except the US itself, of course).

Admittedly, the report’s methodology is a little questionable – a startup was counted as immigrant-founded as long as one of the founders was foreign-born even if multiple co-founders were American – but it still clearly suggests that foreign talent plays a big role in American tech prowess.

Photocredits: Pixabay

In China, the report has sparked introspection about what might very well be considered a weakness in the country’s startup scene. China has more unicorns than any other country except the United States, but investors and pundits were already suggesting that China needs to attract foreign entrepreneurs to maintin its competitive edge in high-tech spaces like mobile. The revelation that America’s unicorn prowess is fueled by immigration is, according to one Sina Tech commenter, “worth reflecting on.”

Attracting permanent immigrants might not be a feasible goal for developing countries in Asia. But could Asian countries boost their innovation levels by encouraging foreigners to live, work, and found companies inside their borders? It certainly seems possible. Singapore, for example, has produced few unicorns, but given its comparatively-tiny population the nation has built an impressive startup scene in part by attracting foreign talent and capital and taking an international-market-facing approach.

Is more immigration and international integration the answer?

Granted, Singaporean entrepreneurs hoping to build unicorns – both natives and foreigners – have to look at international markets because of the Lion City’s small size. But in the long run, its international outlook and international talent may well give Singaporean tech companies a heads-up when competing in the global market. India and China, by contrast, have produced numerous giant internet companies, but nearly all of them have thus far failed to make a significant impact outside of their own countries.

So is more immigration and international integration the answer? Asian tech firms have long been interested in adopting the models that have made American companies so successful, but it may be that America’s greatest strength lies in how many people fromother countries it can attract to its own startup scene.

 This article was originally written by Tech In Asia. For the full article, please click here


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