Nova Credit, a cross-border consumer credit reporting startup backed by Y Combinator, Pejman Mar Ventures, and StartX, made their official product launch today. Nova began as a collaboration among recent Stanford graduates and immigrant entrepreneurs Misha Esipov, Nicky Goulimis, and Loek Janssen.
Misha, Nicky, and Loek recognized a need for access to credit histories across borders to lessen the financial toll on immigrants to the U.S. They first saw the need for access to lending opportunities in their own lives, as well as in the lives of their fellow international students at Stanford, where over 40% of MBA students hold passports from outside the U.S.
“I got rejected from a ton of credit cards, and have to pay for really expensive student loans. I’d written off that category like…this is just something that happens, I’m not going to do anything about it.It was interesting when Misha started having this idea…maybe there is a solution,” said Nicky.
Nicky grew up in the U.K. in a family of Greek immigrants. After graduating from Cambridge and working at Bain & Co and most recently at Ethiopia’s Agricultural Transformation Agency, Nicky moved to the U.S. to get her MBA at Stanford.
Without the ability to transfer their credit histories, immigrants have difficulty proving their reliability as borrowers and are often forced into less ideal options like payday loans, that can charge 300% or more in interest. As a result, immigrants living in the U.S. often struggle to navigate life tasks and milestones, such as taking out a loan to start a business, buying a car, or renting an apartment.
“Immigration is a really vulnerable point for individuals in their lives. Giving them the credit to get that head start, it helps…unlock opportunities for them,” said Nicky.
Misha, Nicky, and Loek seek to provide a systemic solution to aid the more than 42.4 million immigrants living in the U.S. with limited access to credit. “[We] allow people to bring their credit history with them so that they’re treated as equals when they come to the U.S., to not have to start from scratch,” said Misha.
Misha is a naturalized U.S. citizen whose family moved to the United States from Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union. Most recently in his career, Misha worked at Google[x] and Goldman Sachs, before completing his MBA at Stanford Graduate School of Business.
“My immigration story is a huge source of pride for me in getting to where I am,” said Misha.
“I’ve been in this country for more than 25 years and had the good fortune of being educated here, and benefited from the sacrifice that my parents made in taking a big risk and leaving the safety net that comes with being in a country where your education is respected. Where you speak the language. Where you understand the culture. Where you have a big family. You come to a new country…you’re starting over. I have been lucky enough in life to make it to here. I think about the sort of the path that’s gotten me here, and what I want to accomplish in the future. I want to help people get to a similar stage.”
Part of Nova’s goal is to help immigrants from all walks of life find pathways to success.
“If you’re already having to struggle with income and then you don’t have special services handy, it’s even harder. The system is not really optimized across the whole income curve,” said Loek. “It takes like three to five years to build [a credit history] that is up to par to what it was back home, and we solve that gap.”
Loek moved to the U.S. from the Netherlands in 2014 and received his Master’s degree at Stanford in Artificial Intelligence and Software Engineering.
Silicon Valley’s population alone is 37% non-citizens. Considering 42.4 million people in the U.S. are immigrants, Nova Credit has positioned itself to fill a wide gap. Nova currently validates credit information from Mexico, Canada and India, with plans to expand to several different countries in the coming months. If Nova Credit succeeds in their goal to provide credit history for immigrants, it would create a $600 billion lending opportunity for American institutions.
In order to continue to grow their young company, the founding trio must contend with not only inherent entrepreneurial challenges, but also the ever-present uncertainty of Nicky and Loek’s future in the U.S.
“I’m faced with the risk that my two co-founders may not be allowed to stay in this country, in a year and then in two years,” said Misha.
Nicky is currently on an OPT student visa, and plans to apply for the H1-B visa through her work with Nova. Loek is in the U.S. on an OPT STEM extension, which allows him to stay in the country legally post-graduation for up to 2 years.
“We need greater clarity on the ability for highly qualified, talented, driven people to stay in this country,” said Misha.
Unfortunately, Nicky and Loek are just two of many highly skilled and educated immigrants whose potentials–personal and professional–are stuck in limbo due to the limited and outdated options within the U.S. immigration system.
“I know so many really dynamic and amazing international entrepreneurs who haven’t been confident that they can find a visa solution in order to make it work…they could contribute more to the economy if they had the flexibility to pursue startup jobs,” said Nicky.
In the 2015 H-1B visa lottery, only 65,000 visas were given to companies seeking to hire high-skilled, foreign-born workers in STEM fields. Even if a company does petition for a foreign-born employee to receive an H-1B visa, the chances are slim and the winners are chosen at random. The visa system’s ambiguity and the low odds of actually “winning the lottery” often deters companies from hiring talented immigrants.
The founding team is proof of highly skilled and innovative immigrants’ contributions to the economy. Nova Credit serves as one of the many examples of the impact that commonsense immigration reform–with options for foreign-born entrepreneurs–could have on American society.
“If you have a visa environment that allows people who are driven, well-educated, and ethical, the ability to stay in this country and to create value here, that does tremendous good for the bigger economy,” said Misha. “It creates more jobs, it creates innovation in this country, which then trickles into other countries and continues to promote the U.S. as the bellwether source of innovation around the world.”
Countless other foreign-born entrepreneurs in the U.S. also provide invaluable services through their businesses, as well as a boon to the American economy. For example, in the U.S., immigrant-founded companies have a collective value of $168 billion and create an average of 720 jobs per company. Additionally, the average immigrant living in the U.S. contributes about $120,000 more in taxes than they consume in benefits.
“I think it really is Congress’ role to continue to build this ideal that America was founded on, and to be outward looking and bold,” said Nicky.
Share Misha, Nicky, and Loek’s story and join the fight to pass commonsense immigration reform in 2017.