Want to be like Silicon Valley? Welcome Immigrant Entrepreneurs

Immigrants are a major driver of the American entrepreneurial economy. More than 40% of Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or their children, over 50% of American billion-dollar “unicorn” startups have at least one immigrant founder, and immigrants are nearly twice as likely as the native-born to start a new company.

And thanks to newly released data from the Annual Survey of Entrepreneurs (ASE), we now know that, perhaps unsurprisingly, the San Jose metropolitan area – often considered the heart of Silicon Valley – is the metro with highest share of immigrant entrepreneurs in the U.S.

Both our recently released research compilation on immigration and the latest Growthology post on immigrant entrepreneurship shows the importance of immigrant entrepreneurs to the economy. In this blog post, we further explore firms owned by immigrants using the recently released Annual Survey of Entrepreneurs (ASE) data. The ASE is the largest annual survey of American entrepreneurs ever done, and is produced by the Census Bureau in a public-private partnership with the Kauffman Foundation and the Minority Business Development Agency.
Here, we are using data on individuals who were not U.S. citizens at birth as a proxy for U.S. immigrants. Although there are some caveats associated with this assumption, in most cases, non-U.S. citizens at birth are arguably likely to have immigrated to the U.S. if they own a business here.

Metro Trends on Immigrant Entrepreneurship

San Jose is the metro with the highest percentage of immigrant entrepreneurs in the U.S., followed by Miami, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York.

Figure 1. Source: ASE

As shown in figure 1, the top 5 metros with the highest percentage of immigrant business owners are San Jose, Miami, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York. The 5 metropolitan areas with the lowest percentage are Louisville, Birmingham, St. Louis, Pittsburg, Indianapolis and Minneapolis metropolitan areas – with a tie for fifth lowest.

There is, of course, a very strong correlation between the percent of immigrants in the population and the percent of immigrant entrepreneurs. [1]  Nonetheless, in most metros (forty out of the fifty we have this data for), immigrants have a disproportionate presence in the entrepreneurial community – i.e., immigrants make up a larger share of entrepreneurs than they make of the population. You can see this disproportionate presence on what we calculated as a multiplier below, simply a ratio of share of immigrant entrepreneurs over share of immigrant population. You can hover over data points in figure 2 for the measure.


Figure 2. Source: ASE and ACS

State Trends on Immigrant Entrepreneurship

California is the state with the highest percentage of immigrant entrepreneurs, followed by New York, New Jersey, Florida, and Hawaii

Figure 3. Source: ASE

Next, if we look at state trends, as shown by figure 3, the top 5 states with the highest percentage of immigrant business owners are California, New York, New Jersey, Florida, and Hawaii, while the 5 states with the lowest percentage are South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana, Nebraska, Iowa, and Wyoming.

For most people, this picture of immigrant entrepreneurship is not surprising. Larger states and metropolitan areas have a greater share of their business owners identifying as immigrants. But there is an interesting comparison to draw to the state-level data from the Kauffman Index of Startup Activity. The Kauffman Index, taking into account startup density, the percent of a state’s population that are new entrepreneurs, and the percent of entrepreneurs that chose to do so out of opportunity rather than necessity, highlights that some states with the smallest percent of entrepreneurs that are immigrants still display strong entrepreneurial energy. Of the top 5 states in the Startup Activity Index, Nevada and Texas are states with above average immigrant entrepreneur representation, while Montana, Wyoming, and Oklahoma are not. This is evidence that entrepreneurship in each location won’t look exactly the same, and that each location can take advantage of their unique strengths to grow through entrepreneurship. 

The ASE data provide us with detailed information on immigrant business owners, and enable us to dig into trends on immigrant entrepreneurship across various parts of the U.S. We will explore this topic further in our soon to be released research brief on immigrant entrepreneurs.

[1] Immigration population data sourced from the American Community Survey (ACS).


[1] Immigrant population data sourced from the American Community Survey (ACS) 2014.


[1] Immigrant population data sourced from the American Community Survey (ACS) 2014.


[1] Immigrant population data sourced from the American Community Survey (ACS) 2014.

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Arnobio Morelix

Arnobio Morelix

Arnobio Morelix is a senior research analyst and program officer in Research and Policy at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, where he is a principal investigator on the Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurship, the first and largest index tracking entrepreneurship across city, state, and national levels. For over a decade, the Kauffman Index has been a trusted source of entrepreneurship indicators in the United States—referenced in the policy world by institutions like the White House Office of the President of the United States, the Small Business Administration, and by U.S. Embassies and Consulates in several countries. Morelix also is an editor of Kauffman’s entrepreneurship research blog, Growthology.org.

chris jackson

Chris Jackson

Chris Jackson is a research assistant in Research and Policy for the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, assisting in the understanding of what policies and environments best promote entrepreneurship and education in the pursuit of economic growth. 

Inara Sunan Tareque

Inara Sunan Tareque is a research assistant in Research & Policy for the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, where her work involves research pertaining to entrepreneurship, identifying and awarding grants, writing literature reviews, and performing charting and data analysis. Tareque holds a Bachelor of Arts from Grinnell College with majors in mathematics and economics, with a concentration in global development studies.