Forbes30u30 Russia. I am building an edtech platform StudyFree that connects students to international educational opportunities worldwide.
Immigrating to the U.S. to achieve your goals is one of the cornerstones that has made the country a business hub and a beacon of possibilities, attracting talented and ambitious entrepreneurs and professionals from around the world.
As an immigrant entrepreneur who spent the past decade living in Spain, China, Russia and the U.S. and has built an international business with headquarters in Silicon Valley, I’ve experienced challenges that have given me valuable insights into the skills and underlying cultural sense that immigrants should develop to be perceived as top-tier experts and reliable founders by potential investors.
One of the most crucial requirements for such acceptance is belonging to influential groups. A community gives strength through numbers and inspires confidence, largely thanks to the sense that one has strong backing. While American society has been making strides to make the business landscape more welcoming to those less privileged, there’s still work to be done. The need for connections remains a hot topic for newcomers trying to establish their business and seamlessly integrate into a new society.
Given existing tight-knit communities, it can be challenging for immigrants, even those with energy and fresh ideas, to find support and trust at the same level as locals. It takes time to find a group with similar values and interests, and even more time and effort to be accepted. In the business setting, investors are more likely to consider a project from a graduate of a prestigious university, or a member of a group they know has similar values, than the vision of an entrepreneur with no social ties. It’s not enough to have brilliant ideas or a strong business plan; it’s important to fit into the system and be fully immersed in the culture.
One of the ways to find your way in is to start building your network. Enrolling in a course or program at a local university may be a good option to explore. Not only will that improve your skills in the area you study, but it will also make you part of the university’s alumni network and boost your credibility once the recognized school name appears on your resume.
Personally, I’ve found startup accelerators extremely helpful in finding a sense of belonging, networking and integrating into the international community of entrepreneurs. I was fortunate to be a part of Techstars and Berkeley SkyDeck, which helped me grow as a founder and propel my company forward with the support of their global communities. However, prestigious startup accelerators accept less than 5% of applications, so it’s essential to have other options in your back pocket. Explore local entrepreneurship communities, perhaps based around your home country or native language. I had the opportunity to be a part of an entrepreneur co-living community in San Francisco, Dobry Dom, that has become a launchpad for many successful startups by Russian-speaking founders. You can also join entrepreneur communities outside of your own culture, such as Launch House or On Deck, to network and find support.
Another skill that many immigrant entrepreneurs may find challenging is presenting their ideas in an engaging, captivating and investor-oriented way. While most schools don’t offer courses in storytelling (which is essential in developing pitching skills), I’ve observed that many local entrepreneurs have been developing their storytelling abilities since childhood, pitching big-ticket gifts or pet ideas to their parents, describing the problem, how it will be solved and the game-changing impact it will have on their lives. For those who come from cultures where persuasive storytelling isn’t a widespread practice in everyday life, fitting your ideas into an effective presentation may be something you have to learn and practice as an adult.
Storytelling and pitching skills are only a part of the challenge. The other part, for non-native English speakers, is the accent. As someone who has an accent due to my international background, I’ve found ways to use it to my advantage. It often serves as an icebreaker and a conversation starter, and having an accent also gives a nod to diverse life experiences, which implies that you may have a different perspective and approach to doing business. It’s always a good idea to position your international background as an advantage.
Regardless of your origin, what you say is more important than what language you speak at home or your accent. So, while working on your pronunciation to make sure you’re easy to understand, it’s more essential to focus on your storytelling and presentation skills. Hiring a professional coach to help polish your storytelling and presentation skills might be a game-changer. They can give you valuable advice on how to best position yourself for your next fundraising round and help with narrative training that’s helpful both in and out of the boardroom.
For those not ready to invest in professional help, I recommend subscribing to podcasts, reading local media and connecting with other founders and mentors. My biggest growth point has been learning to speak the same language, literally and figuratively, as the people across the table during my fundraising journey. Ensure that your writing is cogent, straight-to-the-point and uses relevant terms and information to get your point across.
Home country or membership in a specific group aside, building your network, perfecting your pitching skills and finding ways to highlight your background to decision makers is an ongoing journey for both locals and immigrants. Like your professional expertise, these are skills that can and should be learned, finessed and developed no matter your industry or business strategy. It’s important to embrace the culture of the country you’re living in, adjust your communication to reflect it and find a way to think locally, while leveraging your international background.