The Story of an Immigrant Entrepreneur

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.”

12 responses to “The Story of an Immigrant Entrepreneur

  1. As Paroon’s Co-founder and friend over the past several years, I can only add credence to this cause. In startups, people are so important and people focusing on addressing needs of customers and developing great products and services should be rather than logistics like visa issues. Paroon is right in that the process took up much of his valuable time, which could have been spent on growing the company, improving our hiring processes and expanding our business ultimately leading to an increase inthe number of jobs we are able to provide.

    Without our initial partner, Purdue Employee Federal Credit Union, we would not have been able to start the company the same way and I would not have had the personal experience of working with such a passionate and talented international person like Paroon.

    This intiative shows promise and is certain to be an important step forward in enabling people from all around the world to be able to take part in the magic of entrepreneurship in the U.S. and be able to share those experiences with others outside the country.

  2. As a Purdue University student, I am a candidate to receive a Certificate of Entrepreneurship from Purdue University.

    Through this program, I’ve had the privilege and honor of learning from Paroon and Chris. They take the time to make sure that students, like myself, learn what it takes to be successful in today’s business world.

    During the day, both Paroon and Chris are the driving force behind Passageways. In the evening, they are the driving force behind my education in entrepreneurship. They have inspired me to fight for my entrepreneurial dreams.

    Without Paroon and Chris, my education in entrepreneurship would not be the same. In fact, before I met them. I viewed entrepreneurship as just a side project.

    Now, I cant think of anything else I’d rather do. Entrepreneurship truly is the driving force behind the economy in the U.S. and can create thousands of jobs.

    This initiative can open the doors to the world so that the brightest minds can come and create not only amazing products and services. But, create jobs and build long lasting bonds between entrepreneurs and students like me.

    I proudly support of the StartUp Visa.

  3. Naveen Sachdeva

    Paroon is a highly talented entrepreneur and great motivator.

    I have all my best wishes for his future endeavors.

  4. This sounds to be my own story. I started a company about four years ago but had to scale down the services because can’t leave my full time job due to my immigration status. You are lucky you got Green card but I am still in queue for last 7 years.

    • same story here .. we cannot start to work for our own firms, have to include freebies who don’t have same passion as the founder…., ones loos is others gain … feel sorry for myselves and other’s whose passion is to create jobs. …..

  5. I worked at Passageways during the early stages in 2004/2005. Paroon’s vision and push during those years were critical to the success of the company, and revolutionized the way Credit Unions and small banks conduct their business.

    It is unfortunate that immigration reform has taken a back seat while talented individuals establish lives in other open countries.

    In support of this initiative. Best of luck.

    http://www.purdueexponent.org/?module=article&story_id=5783

  6. Shantnu Chandel

    From The New York Times:

    America’s Real Dream Team

    Seeing the 40 finalists in the 2010 Intel science contest is a reminder of how great our nation can be with a constant flow of legal immigrants.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/21/opinion/21friedman.html

  7. this is the same issue i am having i have so many ideas to develop my web business already profitable and in operation i would like to a team but i’m afraid to push forward because of uncertainty.

  8. Story of my life. After having a Phd, it is so hard to start a company – due to limited visa options.

    I have had two operating agreements go south and have to clinge to a H1B.

    The worse part it the opportunity cost is very very high to wait for permanent residency.

    I hope American politicians see what a big issue this is.

  9. Any progress on this? I now have a company started in Canada, but it could have easily been in the US. The plan is still to have enough traction on paper to make it easier to apply when the time comes

  10. Congratulations. Getting a labor cert approved for a green card as a founder and executive of a small company is very unusual. If you read 9 FAM 40.51 N6.2 it specifically calls out founders, managers and ‘aliens [that are] inseparable from the sponsoring employer because of his or her pervasive presence and personal attributes that the employer would be unlikely to continue operation without the alien;’ as reasons to disqualify a labor cert.

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