How International Students Can Start a Business in the United States

Start a business in the United States

International entrepreneurs frequently face adversity in working to start a business in the United States.

What are the best ways to overcome the challenges of immigration, networking, and getting your company off the ground? Debi Kleiman, executive director of The Arthur M. Blank Center for Entrepreneurship, sat down to discuss with Ecuadorian native and Waku founder Juan Giraldo MBA’18, Unshackled Ventures founding partner Manan Mehta, and nationally recognized immigration lawyer Susan Cohen.

Know the Goal of Your Degree

As a founder of four companies, Giraldo looks back on the acquisition of his Babson College MBA as an essential step in his entrepreneurial career.

He said he knew what he wanted to accomplish with his degree early on, specializing in one area which helped him “figure out priorities and maximize opportunities,” and advised prospective students to do the same.

“If you start bouncing around, you won’t have time to do anything right,” Giraldo said.

Have the Right Legal Support System

Though students like Giraldo, who is currently on an E-2 visa, are leading prominent companies, they have still faced numerous obstacles when trying to start a business in the United States in the form of immigration.

As chair of the Immigration Practice of Boston-headquartered law firm Mintz Levin, Cohen underscored the importance of finding the right attorney when working to start a business in the United States, given constantly changing immigration laws in the United States.

“We’re in a particular political environment right now, (it’s) important to know what might happen,” Cohen said. “The key is to know what you have to do to stay legal, how much time you can spend.”

Cohen said students also can make use of Optional Practical Training (OPT), temporary employment for students on an F-1 visa that is directly related to their field of study. Cohen said OPT can be used as a steppingstone to a temporary work visa or eventual green card.

Babson international students can learn more about OPT through the International Student and Scholar Services team within the Glavin Office of International Education.

Be Prepared to Officially Start a Business in the United States

While it’s necessary to put your business officially on hold while sorting out immigration matters, Giraldo and Mehta urged entrepreneurs to take the right steps so you can start your business once legally permitted.

“Think about this as part of that process,” Mehta said. “This is what makes this kind of (college) what it’s all about.”

Giraldo accentuated the benefits of working with an immigration attorney to consider your background, goals, and path of your business.

“Look at it as another part of your company. You need to solve roadblocks in the immigration journey. Understanding how to navigate that area will help you make more informed decisions along the way.”

Utilize Your College and Local Network

Mehta encouraged students to utilize the Babson College alumni network of more than 42,000 strong when attempting to start a business in the United States, which he said can significantly lower your risk of failure in starting a business.

“The access to your peer group, across the Boston area, the Northeast, the country, is so much better when you have an alumni network,” Mehta said. “Use it all, start your business when you can meet more people right away.”

Mehta added that he believes international students are actually more entrepreneurial than their peers.

“You have a unique advantage over everyone else,” he said. “That is a powerful thing.”

“As international founders, we believe in the American dream,” Giraldo added. “We think in the U.S., everything can be solved and everything is possible.”

Featured photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

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