Episode 5: Funding Immigrant Founders and Investing in Innovation

Hello listeners, and welcome back to the Tech Forward podcast! This week, I spoke with Maria Salamanca, a venture capitalist at Unshackled Ventures. She was named 2018 Forbes 30 Under 30 for Venture Capital. Unshackled Ventures fills a unique space in the entrepreneurial ecosystem by funding teams with immigrant founders.

Maria’s own journey — she immigrated from Colombia at age 7 and became a citizen at 18 — has motivated her to uplift others by eliminating barriers to entrepreneurship and education. Due in part to her history, Maria has a deep understanding of the challenges immigrants face when starting a business in the United States. She and Unshackled Ventures have identified the barriers that immigrant entrepreneurs face:

  1. Access to capital
  2. Office space
  3. Lack of support network
  4. Immigration support

These barriers are what led them to specifically support immigrant founders. “It’s hard to be an immigrant entrepreneur and jump into that full time while also juggling concerns about who will sponsor your visa.” As 45% of Fortune 500 companies have immigrant founders, there’s clearly a high level of entrepreneurship among immigrants despite the significant barriers to the tools and resources which would enable them to fully execute that entrepreneurial spirit.

When it comes to the immigration process, Maria says, “Usually immigrants have to figure all of this out on their own, and most of them do. But that really takes away from the time they could be spending on their projects. They have to keep on top of deadlines and court dates, and struggle with the instability of, Will I be here in 3 months? What about my family? That stress puts a burden on founders.” That’s why some of the funding at Unshackled Ventures supports an in house counsel, allowing entrepreneurs to work closely with an immigration lawyer. “We fund only a small percentage of immigrant founders, but we want them to focus on their product as much as possible.”

Research has shown that cross cultural experiences lead to innovation. “As an immigrant, you come into a new country where there’s a different context for a variety of things. Many times, that means you can see a gap where a need isn’t being met.” To really foster those cross cultural experiences, Unshackled Ventures has created an ecosystem of universities, mentors, advisors, and investors who really believe in the value that immigrant entrepreneurs bring to the table.

Maria and I also discussed the possible future of immigrant entrepreneurs in the current political climate, as well as the advice she would offer to immigrant founders in search of funding. Thank you so much to Maria for joining me, and to all of you out there for listening. See you next week!