Grade A Entrepreneurs

(also: Zeitgeist, great atypical people, books and misc.)

Grade A Entrepreneurs header image 2

Angelika Blendstrup: They Made It! (Foreign Hi-Tech Entrepreneurs in the Silicon Valley)

April 10th, 2009 · No Comments · Entrepreneurs

Do you imagine a world without Yahoo!, Google, eBay or Paypal? Would these companies have existed without Jerry Yang (Yahoo!) who was born in Taipei, Sergey Brin (Google), whose parents came from Russia when he was six, or Pierre Omidyar (eBay), an Iranian born in Paris or Max Levchin, an Ukrainian Jew (Paypal)? What would Intel be if Andy Grove had not fled during the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 with his parents, or Sun Microsystems without Vinod Khosla, from Pune, Andy Bechtolsheim, from the surroundings of Lake Ammerse in Germany, or Canadian James Gosling, the father of Java? Would the Valley be (or have been) the same without Adam Osborne, Alberto Sangiovanni-Vincentelli, Philippe Kahn, Suhas Patil, Alain Rossmann and hundreds of famous or not so famous immigrants? It is impossible to imagine. Although the Valley was “created” some 70 years ago and is forever indebted to William Hewlett and David Packard, as well as Stanford and Berkeley, it also thrived thanks to the droves of high-tech settlers who came over with their dreams and their suitcases, as students or as adults, with or without a family. They transformed the Valley into what Jean-Louis Gassée calls “the united nations, small ‘u’, small ‘n’,” in other words, a living organism where people are defined not by they promise but what they do.

Angelika’s international gallery: Your vision of the Silicon’s Valley’s immigrant population is unavoidably contingent upon whom you randomly meet as you walk University Avenue, as you attend dozens of conferences and countless networking meeting, be they transnational or more destined towards a specific ethnic group (where everybody else is welcome anyway). German-born and Stanford Ph.D. Angelika Blendstrup, the author of They Made It! offers her selection – while reminding us that the statistics provided by the 2007 Index of Silicon Valley show that of the 2.43 million people who call the area between San Francisco and San Jose home, 38 percent are foreign-born residents (of which 33 percent are Asian), or that the city of Fremont reported over 100 different languages spoken by students at home in its 2006 Visitors Guide.

Her collection of interviews with entrepreneurs, executives, academics, wizards, and VCs who contribute to the amazing intellectual and business power of the Silicon Valley represents the Valley microcosm pretty well. Her book is motivational for newcomers: after all, a few before them did rough it out, and made it. It is educational for second or third generation Americans who may gain in leadership quality in better understanding the live diversity that surrounds them. As Rajesh Gupta suggests: “Read across cultural languages to make sound judgments.” Of course, the challenges met by high-tech settlers come in all sizes.  They are big by default: but you are here to transform mountains into mouse-hills, so don’t whine, and look at them the way Arno Penzias did: “The biggest obstacles have been a yin and yang.” Do not worry about annoying details. The Valley moves so fast that they will most likely evaporate quickly: Look, back in the early 80’s, Henry Wong was wondering where he could get Chinese food, and the best brains in the French community were truly surprised, in the mid-80’s, that they could find Pim’s Orange Biscuits!

The Valley forever? “Clearly, Silicon Valley is a better, more dynamic, and more credible place because of the contributions of immigrants from outside the US,” says Google’s CEO, Eric Schmidt, one of the “American Hosts,” invited by Angelika to chip in. While high-tech immigrants are scattered throughout the United States, the Valley is unambiguously the hotbed of entrepreneurship, with 52% of start-up companies created by immigrant founders (with Indians being the most dominant ethnic group), as stated by Duke researchers in 2005 and echoed since then by multiple publications. In addition, the report emphasized the contribution of immigrants to “intellectual property,” using patent data from the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). “Immigrant non-citizens in the U.S. were either named as the inventor or co-inventor in 24.2% of patent applications filed in 2006, the study found. That’s a significant increase from 1998, when non-citizen immigrants accounted for 7.3% of patent applications.”

There are some clouds on the California sky, however. “One of the bizarre things about the US immigration policy is that there are fewer visas available today for foreign engineers to come and stay in this country,” Andy Bechtolsheim warns in his interview, echoing a general concern. This is a fact justifiably hammered out in multiple publications and magazines by Vivek Wadhwa, whose research at Duke University also focuses on how the immigration of engineers, one of the critical competitive advantages for the US, is now threatened by India and China. “Everyone focuses on illegal immigrants. But no one is looking at legal immigrants, people who come in the front door and do things the right way and contribute to America’s competitiveness,” he says. And because of America’s fuzzy policy and delays for visas, he also acknowledges that the U.S. faces the prospect of a “reverse brain drain:” U.S. immigrants are returning home for brighter career prospects and a better quality of life. Check out America’s Loss is the World’s Gain: America’s New Immigrant Entrepreneurs, Part 4, published in March ( and a recent interview of Vivek Wadhwa:

Not everybody lives here and many entrepreneurs over the years have successfully made the decision to stay where they were, only opening sales offices in the US; and despite VISA problems and the recession, there are skilled foreigners springing up left and right literally everyday in the Valley. The twelve lessons that Angelika provides at the end of her book are truly useful to them – as well as to any entrepreneur, foreign or not.     

 Marylene Delbourg-Delphis

For a detailed summary of recent findings, see Land of Opportunity: In the U.S., Immigrants and Entrepreneurs Are Increasingly the Same.


More about Angelika Blendstrup: Angelika Blendstrup is the founder and principal of Blendstrup & Associates. She specializes in individualized, intercultural business communication training, accent reduction and presentation skill coaching. She works with international as well as US executives to assist them in improving their written and oral communications skills, and prepares them how to write and give effective presentations. See her site:

For a list of all the persons interviewed in the book:

You can buy the book from that site or from Amazon: They Made It!: How Chinese, French, German, Indian, Iranian, Israeli and other foreign born entrepreneurs contributed to high tech innovation in the Silicon Valley, the US and Overseas.

Resources: Stanford University’s European Entrepreneurship and Innovation Thought Leaders Seminars: Stanford University’s European Entrepreneurship and Innovation Thought Leaders Seminar is a weekly speaker series that presents industry leaders from Europe’s hitech startup, venture finance, corporate and university research and technology commercialization communities to share their insights and experiences with aspiring and veteran entrepreneurs from Silicon Valley:

Tags: ·······································

0 responses so far ↓

  • There are no comments yet...Kick things off by filling out the form below.

Leave a Comment