By Alex Hemmer
BU News Service
BOSTON – With a growing start-up culture in Boston, a panel discussion celebrating foreign-born entrepreneurs closed the first day of HubWeek by telling stories of hardship, serendipity and worries about the American dream with the increasing anti-immigrant sentiment across the country.
Featuring four technology entrepreneurs who hail from different parts of the world, the conversation was centered around inspiring stories of entrepreneurial success, as well as on the challenging realities that immigrants continue to face today.
“I came to Boston [as the] luggage of my wife who had a post-doc at Tufts [University] … I then stumbled into what is an exciting reality in Boston – scientific entrepreneurship,” said Johannes Fruehauf, who immigrated from Germany.
“I was able to start a small biotech company, and out of that, found wonderful mentors and investors,” he added, having since founded Biolabs and LabCentral, which are both biotechnology companies based in Cambridge.
Higher education was not an uncommon pathway to the United States among the panelists, though Polina Raygorodskaya, founder of travel-booking platform Wanderu and the only woman on the panel, shared a different perspective.
“I came here when I was four with my family. They immigrated here from Russia and my parents came on a refugee visa,” Raygorodskaya explained. “For me, entrepreneurship started from a very young age, watching my parents basically start from scratch after building a life for themselves in a different country with three kids. The American dream was something I was able to witness firsthand.”
Today, Boston is home to an ever-growing number of startups, reaching $5.2 billion in venture capital funding last year. Tech giants with offices in the area include Google and Facebook. Increasingly compared to Silicon Valley, which hit $130.9 billion in venture capital funding last year, Boston has caught the eye of entrepreneurs from around the world.
Other panelists who spoke at the event included Artur Sousa, the Brazil-born founder of Adopets, a pet-adoption tech platform, as well as New Zealander, Josh Feast, founder of artificial intelligence company Cogito Corporation.
Moderated by WBUR’s Shannon Dooling, the discussion also discussed the concept of the American dream. Dooling posed the question of whether the nation’s current political climate may put it at risk of losing talented immigrants.
“I do not think that the American dream is going away, but I do think that beyond just speaking out, we need to make a difference in 2020,” Sousa remarked. He then emphasized the role that immigrant entrepreneurs can play by voting for policies that combat anti-immigration rhetoric.
Many of the panelists have been granted citizenship since moving to the United States. Although they expressed their gratitude for having been able to pursue their dreams in Boston, the startup founders continue to grapple with their identity as immigrants.
Cogito Corporation founder Josh Feast expressed his concerns, adding, “I would love it if people thought of immigrants as people who make the pie bigger, not people who take the slices of others.”