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Op-Ed: Why Immigrants Make Some of Colorado’s Best Entrepreneurs

When we think of immigrant entrepreneurs, we often imagine the penniless visionary who overcame tremendous odds to achieve success. But that’s not my story. Having been born and raised in an affluent country like Germany, I didn’t come to the United States to escape poverty or an unstable political situation. I moved here because there’s no better place in the world to build a thriving business that can also improve people’s lives.

That’s why I want to call on the U.S. government to make it easier for ambitious immigrants like me to come here, contribute their talents and create businesses and jobs for Americans. Under the current system, American businesses are facing the toughest hurdles in a decade to sponsor foreign-born workers for the coveted H-1B visas for highly skilled immigrants. In 2019, U.S. companies submitted more than 201,000 applications for just 85,000 spots.

I come from a long line of foreigners who’ve followed their entrepreneurial dreams to America. Immigrants start businesses at nearly twice the rate of native-born Americans, and there are more than 38,400 foreign-born entrepreneurs in Colorado alone. We have a giant economic impact: A new report by New American Economy found that nearly 45 percent of Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or their children, and that they employ 13.5 million people and bring in $6.1 trillion in annual revenues.

There are many reasons why the United States is a good place to start a business. You not only have access to capital and accelerator programs, but you have the support and goodwill of the American people, who value risk-taking and entrepreneurship. Innovation is part of the culture here, and I’m still humbled by the dozens of established CEOs and investors who were willing to share business advice with me and my two partners, even when we had no business track record to speak of. The opportunity to find mentors and early angel investors helped us get off the ground and grow quickly.

Just as they invested in us, we have invested back in Colorado. The Denver-based companies I co-founded, Wishlist Rewards and ThrivePass, employ more than 75 people. Both of these businesses help American workers around the country feel more invested in their jobs. Wishlist Rewards helps organizations reward their employees with meaningful experiences, such as a private surf lesson, massage or whale-watching tour. ThrivePass offers innovative benefits, such as a wellness savings account and tuition reimbursement, and counts Dropbox, Xcel Energy, Xero and Polaris among its clients.

Immigrants make successful entrepreneurs because we’re motivated to make our mark in a new country. But I also believe that foreigners are valuable because they have fresh eyes that see another society’s problems differently. For example, before taking the leap into startups, I worked for a large company in Los Angeles. When I reviewed my medical-plan options, I was astounded at how difficult it was to understand the fine print. I felt as if I needed a Ph.D. just to get health insurance.

Perhaps Americans are used to such an intimidating process, but as a foreigner, my shocked reaction was the fuel to creating a more streamlined and empowering approach to employee benefits.

If I had stayed in Germany, I’m confident I would have enjoyed a successful career working for a big company. But in the United States, I’ve been able to take a more rewarding path by providing good jobs for the people in my community and inventing products that make life richer for us all.

I’m grateful for these opportunities and want to encourage the U.S. government to make it easier to hire top talent from around the world. I also want to pay it forward by sharing my own experiences with the next generation of business visionaries, no matter where they come from.

Andreas Deptolla is co-founder of Wishlist Rewards and CEO of ThrivePass.

Westword occasionally publishes op-eds about issues of interest to Denver residents. Have one you'd like to submit? Send it to editorial@westword.com.

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