Help Entrepreneurs Make America Home
This article was originally published on HuffingtonPost here
I co-founded a technology startup in 2009, along with my husband, and two other highly skilled engineers. Our company, Khush, uses sophisticated artificial intelligence technologies to help people make music. Developing these technologies requires unique expertise in music information retrieval, which only a handful of people in the world possess. Our two co-founders were among them.
Three of us are children of immigrants – our parents come from India and Great Britain. The fourth is a Chinese immigrant who got his Master’s degree in Music Technology at Georgia Tech. It was there that he helped invent the technology that powered our company’s first product. His story is not unique – according to the Partnership for a New American Economy, in 2011 more than three out of every four patents awarded to the top 10 patent-producing universities – including Georgia Tech – had an immigrant inventor. After he graduated, our co-founder was granted an OPT visa, which allowed him to work for our startup for the first few months.
Those early months were pivotal for our company in part because of him. During this time, he transformed our core technology from a research project into a consumer-ready product. But, just as we were about to launch the product, he had to leave our startup to join a larger company. The reason? We were unable to get him a long-term visa. We spoke with several lawyers and found to our dismay that even if we could afford the exorbitant costs of applying for the visa, our chances of getting approval were virtually none. The visa program is simply not designed for startups.
That is why I am joining the March for Innovation, the largest ever virtual march on Washington in support of comprehensive immigration reform now. I am taking a stand with leaders around the country from the tech, business, and policy worlds. You can help too – go to www.MarchForInnovation.com/act to learn how you can take just a few minutes to make a difference in this crucial fight.
It was my parents’ courage and drive that inspired me to become an entrepreneur in the first place. They moved to the United States in 1979, two years before I was born. They were both trained as physicians in India and came here with the intention of staying for a few years, making some extra money, and then returning home. But America soon began to work its charms on them as it has done to so many immigrants. They eventually stopped thinking of going back – America became home.
I was born in 1981, and my mother decided to leave her career as a physician to focus instead on raising a family, so that she might instill that famed immigrant work ethic in her own children. My father went on to build a successful medical practice in small town America, bringing world-class cardiac care to a rural area and creating jobs for local workers. They paid taxes, donated generously to the community, voted in elections, and worked hard to improve the lives of those around them.
Just as my parents had years ago, our Chinese co-founder wanted very badly to make America his home. Thus he had no choice but to join a company that could sponsor his visa, putting his startup dreams on hold and leaving us to fend for ourselves.
Losing our co-founder less than a year into our startup’s lifecycle was devastating. Ultimately, the immigrant work ethic our parents had instilled in us helped us persevere. We slowly grew our business and became profitable, creating jobs and changing American lives along the way. One of our products, Songify, was adopted by teachers across the country, to help children learn math formulas and help autistic children verbalize. In 2011, we merged our company with another, Smule, and together we now have more than fifty employees in America.
Our company was created by Americans – immigrants, children of immigrants, and the great-grandchildren of immigrants – all of whom share an undying passion for building a better America.
Prerna Gupta is the Chief Product Officer at Smule.
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and The Partnership for a New American Economy, in conjunction with the March for Innovation, a virtual march taking place May 22-23 across a number of social-media platforms designed to call attention to the immigration-reform bill now before Congress. One of those platforms will be HuffPost Live. For more information on the march, click here.