Stanford Entrepreneurs Launch Startup to Offer U.S. Immigrants Opportunity to Transfer Credit History

Posted by Caron Creighton on 08/15/2016

Nova Credit Offers U.S. Immigrants Opportunity to Transfer Credit HistoryNova 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.

DEBUG DC: Encourage Congress to take action in a new way

Posted by Joe Green on 05/29/2014

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We are excited to announce that FWD.us and Hackers/Founders are joining forces to host the “DEBUG DC” Growthathon on June 21st & June 22nd. This is a unique opportunity to push the envelope in online advocacy for immigration reform. With one of the biggest legislative fights in Washington, we have the support of tech leaders in combination with inhouse and volunteer engineers, and a top Washington policy team so we can hear what’s working. It’s time to use technology to help fix our nation’s broken and outdated immigration system and encourage Congress to take action.

Our outdated immigration system does not meet America’s workforce needs in a global economy. We have a system that tells talented immigrants that we don’t welcome their contributions. It is a system that cannot keep the United States competitive in a global economy. The time is now for Congress to act on meaningful immigration reform that boosts the American economy and does right by American families.

The tech community is made up of founders and employees from all over the world and the tech industry wouldn’t be the same without them. We recognize the value that immigrants bring to this country and we’ll do whatever we can to keep them here.

That’s why we are asking for your help. We’re launching DEBUG DC as a grassroots effort that will mobilize the tech industry to push immigration reform that will help all of us – founders and families.

The DEBUG DC growthathon is similar to a hackathon, but this time, we’ll be hacking political advocacy. We’ll use metrics to measure our progress; with the use of our previous advocacy tools, we created “advocacy points” to help measure impact that supporters of reform are taking, such as contacting members of Congress via tweet, phone call, or a physical letter.

Judges from the tech startup community and immigration reform advocacy groups will assess each team’s work and award points based on political engagement and innovation. Winning teams will be invited back for a final launch event on Friday, June 27.

To participate and help us hack immigration reform at DEBUG DC, please register here.

Let’s show D.C. how technology can help spark real change!

Read on below for a message from Jonathan Nelson, founder of Hackers/Founders, our partner for DEBUG DC.

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Let’s DEBUG DC so we can finally pass #&$%*&! Immigration Reform

TLDR; The engine of DC is wedged, and we need developers, data scientists, growth hackers and advocacy people to debug our government and get it working again so we can fix immigration for once and for all. Register here.

As many of you know, Hackers/Founders and FWD.us together with a massive coalition of people have gotten together to support comprehensive immigration reform. I’ve heard from some of my friends in DC and the policy world, that they’ve never seen a larger, bipartisan coalition assemble to support passage of legislation:

Trade unions like the AFL/CIO and the US Chamber of Commerce
Tech lobbies and Latino civil rights groups
People who support a startup visa as well as religious organizations who care for refugees

In fact, enough legislators, both Republican and Democrat have said that if it comes to a vote, they will vote in favor of supporting comprehensive immigration reform.

But the tragedy of this is that a few extremist legislators are holding the rest of Congress hostage and threatening to sabotage members of their own party if they bring an immigration reform law to a vote.

The machine of government is wedged, and is in desperate need of debugging.

How do we DEBUG DC?

Step One → Target critical legislative districts
Step Two → Data mine these districts to find registered voters who are registered Republicans who we think are likely to support immigration reform.
Step Three → Growth hack ways to motivate these people to effectively engage their legislators to tell them they want them to call for a vote on immigration reform.
Step Four → Measure results
Step Five → Iterate

To beta test this model, we are holding the first political growthathon ever. We’d love to have you participate. Register here.

We need developers, growth hackers, data scientists, and UI/UX designers.

Developers should:

    • Be fluent in at least one high level programming language
    • Be well versed in building an app on top of APIs
    • Data mining/web scraping skills a big plus
    • Be pissed off about immigration, and want to fix it.

Growth Hackers should:

    • Think creatively about potential voter acquisition channels
    • Be willing to call, email, do SEM, SMM, A/B test, etc.
    • Be crafty and clever
    • Be pissed off about immigration, and want to fix it.

Data Scientists should:

    • Be well versed in statistics and data analysis
    • Think creatively about potential additional voter data sources to mine
    • Think of ways to infer voter sentiment from sparse data
    • Be pissed off about immigration, and want to fix it

UI/UX designers should:

    • Have front end design experience
    • Be well versed in mobile and/or website design
    • Be pissed off about immigration and want to fix it.

Join us: Register here.

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Jonathan Nelson is the founder of Hackers/Founders. It was started 6 years ago while Jonathan was working as an ER nurse and finishing his software engineering education online. The first Hackers/Founders event was 4 dudes hanging out in a bar, and has since grown to be the largest community of tech founders in Silicon Valley with 12,000 members. They have 57 chapters in 26 countries giving them a total reach of 100,000 members globally. Jonathan obsesses about hacking the GDP of nations through improving startup ecosystems.

Republican Principles on Immigration Reform

Posted by Joe Green on 01/30/2014

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The House Republican Conference’s release of draft principles for how they will approach reform represents another important step toward fixing our broken immigration system. We have said from the outset that we need border security and employment verification, an improved legal immigration system to make sure we meet our workforce needs across all sectors of our economy, and a pathway to citizenship for people currently living here who are undocumented. We remain strongly committed to fighting for our principles as the House works through its process.

Reforming our broken immigration system is critically important to economic growth, creating jobs, and ensuring the U.S.’ continued global competitiveness. We believe the time for reform is now, and we join Americans of all backgrounds in calling for passage of reform in 2014.

Commit to Take Action for Immigration Reform

Meet the DREAMer Hackathon Participants

Posted by Joe Green on 11/05/2013

Today we’re thrilled to announce the DREAMer engineers and product designers who will be joining our Hackathon on November 20th & November 21st. Hundreds of applicants took the time to apply, and we were extremely impressed with the breadth of their experience, their perseverance in the face of incredible odds, and the passion they have for immigration reform and for tech. We’re pleased to be inviting 20 DREAMers to code with some of the top engineers and designers in the industry today.

It’s well past time that we fix our broken immigration system – which isn’t working for American families in a modern global economy. Millions of DREAMers and their families with stories just like those participating in the Hackathon wait in limbo, unable to contribute fully to their communities and having to live in constant uncertainty – and we can’t wait any longer.

The DREAMers will form teams with experienced mentors during the Hackathon and work together to build out prototypes of products to aid the immigration reform movement. Their creations will help spread the word: Americans want immigration reform now.

Some of the top product innovators of our time will be on hand to provide guidance on projects, including Mark Zuckerberg, Drew Houston, Reid Hoffman, and Andrew Mason.

Our DREAMers are each an embodiment of the pressing need for meaningful immigration reform. They come from all over the country and a variety of backgrounds, but are united by the unique challenges facing undocumented families across America. Too many of our participants have gone years without seeing a family member or have been turned down for scholarships to college based solely on their undocumented status, but their courage has spurred them to continue pursuing their dreams.

We’re excited to see what our DREAMers and mentors produce during the Hackathon. Teams will begin strategizing together in the next few weeks, with their work culminating in 24 straight hours of coding at LinkedIn HQ.

FWD.us is proud to celebrate the talents and courageous perseverance of the following DREAMers for our DREAMer Hackathon:

Luis_Aguilar.pngLUIS AGUILAR, 25, Falls Church, VA Luis immigrated to the United States at the age of 9 from Mexico. He attended the Northern Virginia Community College, but due to high costs of out-of-state tuition, Luis was forced to withdraw from school. He currently teaches himself how to code from Internet classes. He is an advocate for immigration reform as an active member of the Dreamers of Virginia student organization. To Luis, immigration reform means justice and dignity for the 11 million aspiring Americans in the United States and the opportunity to see his father, who was deported from the United States when Luis was 15, and whom he hasn’t seen since.

Gerardo_Alvarado.pngGERARDO ALVARADO, 25, Milwaukee, WI Gerardo is a senior at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee where he is majoring in Information Technology Management. He plans to pursue a career in the technology field as well as to organize within the immigrant community. Gerardo currently organizes the immigrant community in Wisconsin with Voces de la Frontera and Youth Empowered in the Struggle. To Gerardo, immigration reform means that he will be able to get a job and take care of his family, especially his mother.

isabel_bahena.pngISABEL BAHENA, 23, San Leandro, CA Isabel came to the United States ten years ago from Mexico. Even though Isabel was pushed back a year during middle school because of her recent arrival to the United States, she excelled during her high school years. Isabel was the first member of her family to graduate from college. After having to turn down the opportunity for college scholarships due to her status, Isabel stayed close to home to afford college where she graduated from California State University East Bay and obtained her Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Science. To Isabel, immigration reform means the opportunity finally to become visible in this country.

sarahi_espinoza.pngSARAHI ESPINOZA, 23, East Palo Alto, CA Sarahi Espinoza had to stop attending school in order to care for her father, who was ill with cancer. She now attends Cañada College and created her own website, Sarahi.tv, where she hopes to inspire other young people to go back to college regardless of their circumstances. When her web developer stopped replying to assist her, Sarahi took matters into her own hands and taught herself how to code. She hopes immigration reform will mean she can be reunited with her mother, who returned to Mexico to petition into the U.S. through the legal system and has been stuck in limbo for 8 years.

roly_fentantes.pngROLY FENTANTES, 25, New York, NY Roly came to the United States at age six. Growing up, he was unaware of his undocumented status until he attempted to get a driver’s license. He majored in Computer Science during his college years; now that he has received his DACA, he is working for Poptip, a start up in New York City that wanted to hire him 15 months prior but could not due to his undocumented status. For Roly, immigration reform means that the millions who are already here – and capable of working and contributing to this country – can do so without worry.

erick_garcia.pngERICK GARCIA, 27, Mesa, AZ Erick Garcia came to the United States at the age of 11 from Veracruz, Mexico. He has two sisters who are both U.S. Citizens. He earned a full scholarship to Arizona State University, and then lost it due to Arizona’s immigration laws and had to take a year off of college. After finding another private scholarship, he persevered and graduated from ASU in 2011. He is a digital organizer for immigration reform through the DRM Action Coalition and Presente.org. To Erick, immigration reform means mean peace and tranquility, as human beings all have the right to search for a better life for their families.

jay_hu.pngJAY HU, 23, New York, NY Jay immigrated to the United States from China. He is a graduate of Queens College in Queens, New York. After receiving his DACA, Jay now is able to work with Hub City Media as an Implementation Specialist. In his free time, Jay likes to work on development projects. To Jay, immigration reform means an opportunity not to have to worry about his future in the United States, which would allow him to focus more intently on his career and become a better developer.

rahul_kapadia.pngRAHUL KAPADIA, 23, Santa Barbara, CA Rahul is a graduate of the University of California Santa Barbara, where he studied computer science. Rahul has been programming for five years and is currently working for a startup in Santa Barbara. To Rahul, immigration reform is important in helping ease the barriers to higher education that he and other DREAMers encounter, which will make it possible for undocumented immigrants to make positive impacts in our economy and country.

henry_lopez.pngHENRY LOPEZ, 19, Falls Church, VA Henry arrived in the United States from Guatemala at the age of four. He is currently a freshman at George Mason University studying Computer Science. He was first exposed to computers through CodeNow, which is a program that introduces the basics of computer programming to minority students in the Washington, D.C. area. Beyond his academic achievements, he advocates for immigration reform as an active member of the Dreamers of Virginia student organization. To Henry, immigration reform means giving the 11 million aspiring Americans in the United States the opportunity to prove that they are hard-working citizens.

rocio_lopez.pngROCIO LOPEZ, 24, Mountain View, CA Rocio, a design thinker, is a graduate of Columbia University. After receiving her DACA, Rocio successfully secured a position at Cisco. Rocio believes that immigration is a complex challenge that needs to be addressed together with people of multidisciplinary fields to influence the stakeholders who can pass comprehensive immigration reform. She hopes that immigration reform will mean a permanent solution to DREAMers like herself to contribute fully to the United States.

celso_mireles.pngCELSO MIRELES, 26, Phoenix, AZ Celso currently works as a leading online strategist for United We Dream – the largest national immigrant-youth led organization – which aims to address the inequities and obstacles faced by immigrant youth. Celso is a multi-faceted digital organizer with graphic design and video production skills. To Celso, immigration reform will mean that his father will be able to get a job and be with his family rather than working two states away.

justino_mora.pngJUSTINO MORA, 24, Los Angeles, CA Justino fled from his abusive father to the United States with his mother and two siblings when he was eleven years old. He is currently studying Computer Science and Political Science at UCLA and works as an independent contractor to help fund his college education. Besides his academic achievements, he is an activist and organizer in the Los Angeles area with CHIRLA and the CA Dream Network. To Justino, immigration reform means hope and the much-needed opportunity for undocumented members of his family and community to obtain the respect they deserve, shed their fear, and empower themselves to put an end to the oppression and humiliation they face at work.

erick_orellana.pngERICK ORELLANA, 24, Patchogue, NY Erick immigrated to the United States from Ecuador at the age of three. From a young age, Erick has had a passion for technology and computers, which furthered his curiosity in the worlds of software engineering, hardware engineering, digital art, digital photography, and electronic production. To Erick, immigration reform means being able to proclaim that he is American and that he has fought for the privilege to be able to prove it.

edson_sierra.pngEDSON SIERRA, 20, Charlotte, NC Edson came to the United States 11 years ago with his mother. He is a sophomore studying computer science at the University of North Carolina Charlotte. To help pay for college, Edson has worked in landscaping, as a dishwasher, and a busboy. His passion for computers started at the age of twelve when his mother bough him an old PC. He is looking forward to the Hackathon, as it would help him promote some of his ideals of empowering low-income students to pursue education through technology. To Edson, immigration reform means the opportunity to pursue his dreams of attending graduate school and helping students in similar situations.

kent_tam.pngKENT TAM, 24, Los Angeles, CA Kent is a graduate of the University of California Los Angeles, where he majored in Electrical Engineering & Computer Sciences. Due to his inability to acquire a job, Kent did freelance work and picked up HTML/CSS in his free time. Kent believes that technology is not discriminatory, as he could be judged based on his work produced instead of his immigration status. To Kent, immigration reform means that he will be able to reunite with his mother and father, who he hasn’t seen for ten years.

dayana_torres.pngDAYANA TORRES, 19, Fairfax, VA Dayana is currently an honors student at George Mason University where she is majoring in Computer Science; she speaks 4 languages. Dayana became an immigration reform advocate when she realized she could not accept any of the 5 full-ride college scholarships she was offered, as she did not have a social security number. She currently serves as the President of Dreamers of Virginia, where she organizes undocumented youth around access to education and immigration reform.

edgar_torres.pngEDGAR TORRES, 26, Oceanside, CA Edgar arrived in the United States as a small child, and calls the U.S. his home. He is a graduate student in the Computer Science Department at the San Diego State University, and is currently interning as a software engineer. To Edgar, immigration reforms means that the effort he put into his education will be worthwhile, and that his family will be able to stay together. He will be participating with his brother, Jorge Torres.

jorge_torres.pngJORGE TORRES, 27, Oceanside, CA Jorge Torres was born in Mexico and moved to the United States as a child with his family. He excelled academically in high school where he participated in the IB program. After working to help his family pay the bills when his father was denied a work permit, Jorge focused on school and is now a senior majoring in Computer Science at Cal State University – San Marcos. To Jorge, immigration reform means that dreams can become a reality. He will be participating in the Hackathon with his brother, Edgar Torres.

carlos_vargas.pngCARLOS VARGAS, 28, New York, NY Carlos came to the United States from Mexico at the age of five when his father passed away and his mother wanted to provide him with a promising future. In order to help care for his family, he began to work as a busboy and waiter at the age of 13. Carlos anticipates graduating college with a Bachelors of Science in Economics. He is an organizer in his community and manages the website and social media network for DRM Action Coalition, an organization that advocates for immigration reform. To Carlos, immigration reform means an opportunity to make America a better and stronger country.

You don’t have to be at LinkedIn HQ to follow the developments at the Hackathon. We’ll be providing real-time updates on social media and livestreaming the event from inside the hackspace at LinkedIn HQ. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook to make sure you stay up-to-date. 

And please join us in supporting meaningful immigration reform: we need to make sure that members of Congress hear from people like you that the time is now for reform. For these 20 DREAMers – and the millions of others like them – we simply can’t afford to wait any longer.

JOIN FWD.US