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.

What a Startup Visa Would Mean for Boston's International Tech Ecosystem

Posted by Stephanie Bauer and Sagar Desai on 11/04/2015

startup visa boston

Why is there no way for entrepreneurs 2 come 2 U.S. + create American jobs? #immigration @datventures Click To Tweet

There are many different ways to enter the United States – as many visas as letters of the alphabet. While a “startup visa” doesn’t exist within our immigration system, our country – and Boston’s tech community – would benefit from the introduction of such a pathway. Why do we have no way for entrepreneurs to come into our country and create jobs for Americans?

Currently, visa options for business purposes are limited. To simplify, there are three general options available:

H visas are traditional work visas. They allow you to live in the U.S., be employed, and make money. However, H visas are designed for large and established companies, not startups. You cannot petition for yourself, which means the visa is only available to paid employees, not founders.

E visas allow entrepreneurs investing a significant amount of money into the U.S. economy to enter the country for a limited period of time, without any hope of ever gaining permanent status. For startups, the investment must be large enough to open and operate their business.

B visas allow for temporary travel for business or pleasure. This grants small startups, without enough money to acquire an E visa, permission to enter the country for 90 days. Unlike the other two visas, B visa holders cannot legally make money in the U.S. during this time. They also have no option for permanent status.

There are very few options available to entrepreneurs. Many just want to come expand their startup on American soil, create jobs, and make a living for themselves at the same time. And yet our country’s current immigration system doesn’t let them.

The United States was founded on the idea that it would be a sanctuary for new and innovative thinking. Why does our current immigration system actively prevent entrepreneurs from doing just this?

While few people disagree with the fundamentals behind this, little is being done on the legislative level to fix it. 

Enter Dat Ventures and its four founders: Tomas Ratia, Matt Hurley, Javier Rivera Lavid, and Sagar Desai.

Dat Ventures, founded in late 2014, is a Boston-based accelerator working exclusively with international startups. Their staff helps with everything from visa advice, to acclimating international entrepreneurs with the New England life.

The founding team identified the gap created by our immigration system, and is dedicated to making it easier for entrepreneurs to come and build their company in Boston and the United States. 

Just last week, Dat Ventures accepted a new batch of fellows – its fourth-ever cohort. This group consists of 13 startup teams from across Europe, Asia, and South America. 

While Dat Ventures is working to help entrepreneurs once they enter the U.S., few people are working to change immigration laws and make it easier for entrepreneurs to come here in the first place.

In President Obama’s executive actions last fall, he proposed a visa that would allow entrepreneurs to come to the United States and scale their companies. The full extent of the visa will hopefully be announced in the coming months.

But what can we do in the meantime?

Become informed on the issue and spread the word. Read about the startup visa – one suggested visa pathway for entrepreneurs that FWD.us has submitted to the White House. The more support this pathway has, the more likely it will come to fruition. 

A Step Forward: Modernization of the Visa Bulletin

Posted by Todd Schulte on 09/09/2015

We applaud the administration’s decision to modernize the Visa Bulletin for hardworking immigrants who will now be able to contribute more fully to our communities and our economy. This is a good step toward improving the system for those who are stuck in an outdated and broken green card process by increasing worker mobility and allowing family members to work in the United States. We’re thankful to all of FWD.us’ volunteers and our allies for pushing hard for these changes, but this is a reminder that our legal immigration system remains broken and we need Congress to act.

We encourage anyone who thinks they may be eligible for this new program to visit the FAQ section of the USCIS website for more information.

Chicago Chapter Members Attend D.C. Advocacy Day

Posted on 04/14/2015

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) began accepting H-1B visa applications from innovative, hard-working immigrants on April 1st. Fast forward five business days, and enough applications had been submitted to fill all 85,000 available visas for the entire year. In other words, America gave immigrants less than a week to apply for the right to legally work and contribute to our country’s economy.

The next step is the lottery: Over the next few weeks, immigrants wait to hear if they were lucky enough to be selected at random from the thousand-page piles of applications.

The visa process is broken. Our country’s tech hubs desperately need high-skill immigration reform. That’s why entrepreneurs from across the country – including Chicago – flew to Washington D.C. and met with legislators, including staff from the offices of Rep. Bobby Rush (IL-1) and Senator Dick Durbin, on Tuesday.

Group-Photo
The Advocacy Day participants with FWD.us Organizing Director Lisa Conn and President Todd Schulte.

Representing the Chicago’s tech community is Nihal Advani.

Nihal is an experienced digital marketer, globetrotter, and Founder & CEO of Georama. Originally from India, he spent his teenage years as an internationally ranked tennis player before coming to the U.S. on a full tennis scholarship. Upon graduating at the top of his class with a B.S. in Marketing, he joined Microsoft where he spent five years in various marketing and data roles, including as Program Manager for the Microsoft Media Network. Nihal combined his passion for technology and travel by launching Georama.

Check out the photos from the Advocacy Day on Facebook and sign up to get involved with FWD.us’ Chicago Chapter here!