Every year, entrepreneurs come to America to launch their businesses. As the mecca for building one’s own empire and business, in the United States, 20.2% of the self-employed workforce is made up of immigrants. With 3.2 million foreign-born entrepreneurs operating businesses in the U.S., immigrants have become an integral part of the American economy, therefore deeming citizenship, green card opportunities and/or entrepreneurial visas imperative. Thanks to opportunities like these, immigrant entrepreneurs have even been responsible for co-founding 55% of America’s billion-dollar ‘unicorn’ companies, employing 8 million people in the country.
One such immigrant entrepreneur is Stephen Garden, founder of pioneering Cloud Technology company Onica. Originally hailing from the United Kingdom, Garden used the US entrepreneur visa track to pursue the American dream. He founded Onica in 2014, in a short time the company grew to several hundred employees and over $100m in revenue, due to this success he was then awarded a highly converted Green Card for notable contributions to the US economy.
Growing up in England, why did you choose the US to start your business?
I’ve always loved visiting different parts of the US, there is so much diversity here across different states so that was a big driver. On the business side of things I felt the opportunity and access to resources was present on a far larger scale in the US market. From a technology standpoint I’ve always admired the innovation that comes out of Silicon Valley and the US as a whole, so being a tech entrepreneur it was a perfect match.
What were the biggest cultural differences of doing business in the US vs UK?
Taking risks, pushing boundaries and innovating are really built into the DNA of America, I experienced less of that growing up in England. The opportunities are bigger here but so are the expectations. Along with that, I found people to be very forthcoming in their aspirations and expectations in the US. Employment law and practices differ greatly between the US and most parts of Europe, this took some getting used to, things like notice periods, annual leave etc, definitely more of a live to work mentality.
Which visa did you apply for and how did you eventually come to receive your Green Card?
Initially I applied for the E2 Treaty Investor visa and was granted that for 5 years to establish a business here. Following on from that, I was given the O1 visa which then evolved into me receiving the Green Card under the EB1A extraordinary ability program. My immigration attorneys were fantastic to work with and the process turned out to be a lot less daunting than I was expecting.
Do you have any advice for budding immigrant entrepreneurs who may be considering moving to the US like you did?
From my first-hand experience I know the experience can be quite overwhelming, you’re effectively turning your life upside down, moving internationally, starting a new business, building a new life. I’d say my first piece of advice would be to make sure you have a good support structure in the US around you, whether that’s investors, employees, friends/family or even immigration attorneys. Secondly, I’d strongly advise you to take your time and plan things through, both the personal side and business side, don’t rush into picking a location or venture until you’ve visited, researched and stress tested the plan.