Passageways Inc. is the 27th fastest growing software company in the United States. Based in Purdue University’s Research Park, the company employs 28 people (including 24 US citizens), has over 200 customers and contributes significantly to the local and state economy. Paroon Chadha was one of the two co-founders of the company, and his story is indicative of the issues faced by immigrant entrepreneurs across the country.
“I came to the US in 1999 for an MBA, which is where I met my fellow co-founder, Christopher Beltran. Together we started working on the first business plan for Passageways. Almost immediately, the idea took off. We won at a prestigious business plan competition at Purdue University in my first year, and got convinced to pursue this opportunity full-time after school.
However, my visa situation was tenuous. After graduation, I was allowed to work for a year on this project, after which I would have to get sponsorship from another employer for my H-1B visa. All initial discussions with potential investors were tainted by this uncertainty. To delay the start of the 1 year ticking clock, I took a year off from school as well.
Purdue Employees Federal Credit Union became our first paying customer. In fact, they were so impressed with the product that they agreed to invest $100,000 in our company as seed funding. We spent thousands of dollars of our precious seed capital to explore visa opportunities that would enable me to start my own company, but our attorneys came up empty.
Finally, we worked out a compromise. As part of the Operating Agreement, Purdue EFCU took majority ownership of my business and agreed to sponsor my H-1B application. The Operating agreement allowed for transferring back some equity to me (and Christopher) on meeting certain milestones.”
Paroon’s story is replicated across the country, as bright students continue to try and start their own businesses, only to stumble when it comes to getting a visa. Passageways has been profitable for 5 years running, and was recently named amongst the 50 companies to watch in Indiana. While Paroon was able to trade ownership in the business for a visa sponsorship, this hurdle is too difficult for several others to overcome.
“In 2004, Passageways applied for permanent residency for me, and I finally received my green card this year. For years, our annual strategic meetings listed my lack of permanent residency as amongst the top business risks for our company. It took me 7 years, 4 trips outside of the country solely to get visa renewals, and countless hours spent resolving paperwork that could have been spent focusing on growing my business.
I consider myself one of the lucky ones. I have seen several other startups fall by the way side as they try and resolve the founder visa issue. This country is the only place where a business like mine could be so successful so fast. However, the immigration laws made it harder, and not easier, for me to achieve my entrepreneurial objectives.”