A new Boston-based venture capital fund is investing exclusively in immigrant entrepreneurs. And its co-founders are themselves immigrant entrepreneurs.
Eveline Buchatskiy and Semyon Dukach, immigrants from Brazil and Soviet Russia respectively, have co-founded One Way Ventures.
The fund’s name, Dukach says, is a reference every immigrant understands.
“As an immigrant, you simply never forget that moment of decision when you are buying the one-way ticket, forever going to a new place and knowing you're never going back,” he says. “It's the word makes you remember that moment.”
And Dukach knows this first-hand. He came to America as a Jewish refugee from the Soviet Union in 1979, with nothing. But he’s done astoundingly well: he co-founded several successful businesses before becoming a full-time angel investor. Before starting One Way Ventures, he was the director of Techstars in Boston, a company that connects entrepreneurs with collaborators and investors.
In his time with Techstars he encountered a lot of immigrants who, like him, were natural entrepreneurs.
“There have been many amazing immigrant entrepreneurs that I got to know and I got to help and I got to see succeed,” he says. “In fact, almost all of my most successful company outcomes have been immigrants.”
Dukach says immigrants tend to do well starting businesses because of what they’ve had to go through to make it here.
“People who can get through those difficulties, who can survive that and find a path to success and put themselves somehow in a position of actually building a business and hiring people in the new country… you know those people are much more likely to take that business to a much higher level of success.”
“For the immigrant, there is no safety net and there is no other option,” says Victor Santos, an immigrant founder who is one of the stars of Techstars. Santos came here from Brazil as a kid. With the support of Techstars, he and his co-founder Sara Choi created Airfox, a way for low-income people to get online using mobile devices. Airfox serves two million subscribers.
“I think immigrants have a stronger sense of a mission and purpose in wanting to prove themselves.
And I think a lot of it has to do with grit and resilience that comes from being an immigrant and being in an unknown place with a lot of ambiguity,” says Santos. “The number one thing that keeps a company alive is resilience and being comfortable with ambiguity,” he adds with a laugh, because Airfox is living with that ambiguity right now.
Santos grew up and went to school here, but he is not a US citizen. He’s a ‘dreamer’ -- here legally thanks to an executive order signed by President Obama in 2012, known as DACA. As the owner of Airfox, he’s able to sponsor other immigrant workers. But, he explains, “the funny thing about that is, I can't sponsor myself. … Even though I'm I am a DACA recipient, I am the owner of the company, and I own the majority share, so it's not clear that I could do that.”
President Trump has not rescinded DACA, but he has sent mixed signals about how his administration will treat dreamers like Santos.
“That's very scary,” he says, “because that could potentially give me, you know, a 90-day notice to leave the country if the program does end. It's just like purgatory, immigration purgatory.”
Last week, Trump endorsed a new immigration approach that would reduce legal immigration by introducing merit-based evaluation. Putting a premium on skills might sound like a wonderful plan for would-be entrepreneurs wanting to come to America.
But Dukach is skeptical.
“I'm not sure we should measure the value that human beings bring to us,” he says. “The value of people is their potential, and all people, at the end of the day, given the right environment, have almost infinite potential.”
Dukach says One Way hopes to be backing their first venture by the fall.