Davyeon Ross remembers the mix of excitement and fear he and his parents felt when the opportunity to leave the West Indies island of Trinidad and Tobago for college became reality. Ross was offered a basketball scholarship to Benedictine College in the small town of Atchison, Kansas.
But it's hard to know all the ways you'll succeed when faced with the unknown. His parents bought a one-way ticket and prayed.
"My parents were scared and I was scared," Ross said. "I had never visited Kansas or the college. I just knew I was coming to play basketball and get an education."
At 17, Ross was more about basketball than education. "A year before I started training, I would tell people I'm going to find a way to get a basketball scholarship and people would laugh at me," Ross said.
But his parents knew it was his passion. And while Ross was big on basketball, they were big on education. So, they bought that one way ticket to Kansas, confident that as passionate as Ross was about basketball, he was as equally gifted in math.
Ross tested out of his freshman math classes. When his professors began discussing the career path for a math major—research or teaching—Ross was eager to shift his math skills to computer science.
But his sights were still set on a career in basketball. At Benedictine, Ross was a star—first team all conference, leading his team in scoring, rebounding and percentages. By his senior year, he led the nation in field goal percentage and had the opportunity to play basketball overseas.
But opportunities to start a career in the United States were growing.
Sprint, headquartered in Overland Park, Kansas, invited him to interview for jobs. Sprint offered to pay for continued education, Optional Practical Training (OPT)—it would pay for his H1-B visa.
Again, Ross prayed. His parents prayed. He decided to forego a career in basketball for computer science and an American visa.
Ross was quickly hired by Sprint and received his H1-B. When his manager and director at Sprint decided to quit to found their own company, they wanted him to join them and offered to pay for his H1-B to be transferred. "They made the effort and paid for the paperwork, which is a unique situation," Ross said of the small startup. "I was blessed to have a company willing to pay for H1-B."
With that support, Ross used his talents to help build companies and start his own innovative companies—AthletixNation; Digital Sports Ventures, successfully exiting in 2011; and, ShotTracker, which he co-founded with Bruce Ianni in 2013.
Each of his companies have created American jobs. ShotTracker currently employs 26 people. Ross gets a bit of a chip on his shoulder when he hears negative political views regarding immigration.
"I know all the rhetoric with immigrants stealing jobs," Ross said. "I defy that rhetoric. I've done everything the way it's supposed to be done. I've created jobs."
He doesn't understand the "us" versus "them" viewpoint, especially when it comes to high-skill immigration. "The majority of immigrants that are innovators are working to make the U.S. a better place—people need context. They only understand one-tenth of the picture without understanding all the components," Ross said.
He adds that immigration is not without its issues, and he understands how people can be frustrated by the pressure illegal immigration could put on an economic system. "But people have a thought process of generalizing everyone. This rhetoric—they're speaking without facts. By no means are all immigrants or immigrant stories the same."
For Ross, entrepreneurship was about controlling his own destiny. "It's like, 'this is the land of the free, the American Dream, you can do exceptionally well here—let's not blow it.'"
Research shows that immigrant entrepreneurs are twice as likely to start businesses as native-born Americans and now account for almost 30 percent of all new entrepreneurs in the United States.
Ross says immigrants, especially those with high-skill degrees, have a unique combination of drive, experience and talent. "When you add resourcefulness to science and work ethic, it's a natural progression."
Ross says in today's world, that talent pipeline of the world's best and brightest doesn't just belong to the United States.
"What we have to understand is there used to be a point when America was the at the center of tech entrepreneurship," Ross said. Now, other countries are excelling. "In Israel—the tech community is thriving. The India tech community is thriving. Other countries are also welcoming people and creating an environment to foster entrepreneurship," Ross said.
"Foreign technology companies are being sold to U.S. companies from Israel for hundreds of millions of dollars. Twenty years ago, we couldn't say that," Ross said.
"If we don't create environments that are conducive to entrepreneurs, they will go elsewhere. People can create these companies in communities that are conducive to entrepreneurship and still reach U.S. people who are purchasing thanks to the internet."
Global competitiveness, Ross said, "It's got to be deliberate."
That's why Ross is proud to be cultivating diversity and his company in the heart of America. "I think diversity is everything," Ross said. "Not only diversity of people, but diversity of thoughts. Our experiences shape all our decision making—everything we do."
With his employees, diversity of thought is exercised with respect and to complement each other. "We always get better solutions because we're coming from a different perspective," he said. "Everyone has different experiences and it helps us to be better every single day."
Davyeon Ross and the ShotTracker team