Credit: Shutterstock
Credit: Shutterstock

What’s up with the ten immigrant-led unicorns 500 Global invested in?

Over the years, the early-stage venture capital firm 500 Global (previously 500 Startups) has invested in entrepreneurs from diverse geographies and backgrounds. Some didn’t have ‘the right face’ for other VCs.

San-Francisco based venture firm 500 Global boasts a list of unicorns, those startups with a valuation of at least $1 billion, including ten launched by foreign-born entrepreneurs. Some founders, however, have experienced the downside of rapid growth and were eventually fired by investors. Others navigate valuation cuts amid challenging market conditions.

Iterable

Valuation: $2 billion (2021)

Headquarters: San Francisco, California 

This AI-powered customer communication platform for brands was launched in 2013 by two co-founders of Asian descent, Andrew Boni and Justin Zhu. The startup provides services to DoorDash, Zillow, Volvo, and other companies.

Last year, Shanghai-born co-founder and CEO of Iterable, Justin Zhu, was fired “for multiple instances of violating the company’s employee handbook, policies, and values.” However, Zhu claims that the real reason was anti-Asian bias by the startup’s investors, who he said wanted to replace him with a white CEO. 

Zhu told the investors that he wanted to stay on, in part to set an example for other East Asian immigrants. Zhu has since created Stand With Asian-Americans, an organization aiming to end discrimination.

Innovaccer

Valuation: $3.2 billion (2021)

Headquarters: San Francisco, California 

This Silicon Valley-based digital healthcare company, founded by Abhinav Shashank, Kanav Hasija, and Sandeep K Gupta, offers various digital products to healthcare providers. These founders of Indian origin claim to have created Health Cloud, something akin to the Google Suite of healthcare. 

This summer, the company launched Sara for Healthcare, an AI assistant for analysts and executives. It’s named for Saraswati, the Hindu goddess of knowledge and language. The solution automates workflows, generates insights and conversationally supports decisions for clinicians, care coordinators and contact center representatives.

Carbon Health

Valuation: $3.3 billion (2021)

Headquarters: San Francisco, California 

The story of this healthcare company, which was launched in 2015, took an unexpected turn a few years later. Turkey-born Kurdish entrepreneur Eren Bali, co-founder of Carbon Health, was introduced to Caesar Djavaherian, an emergency medicine doctor and owner of a chain of urgent care clinics who had moved to the U.S. during the Iranian revolution in 1979. 

Djavaherian had issues with outdated electronic administrative systems using old technology, and he decided to pilot Carbon Health software in his clinics. In 2018, the two companies merged to create a system that would be intuitively easy-to-use instead of requiring hours of training. 

Shippo

Valuation: $1 billion (2021)

Headquarters: San Francisco, California

Originally from Germany, Laura Behrens Wu, co-founder of Shippo, is half German and half Taiwanese. She speaks six languages and worked her way up in the tech world from an intern position. 

Behrens Wu moved to San Francisco from Germany to intern at a startup, but soon figured she could start a business herself. She recruited fellow German intern Simon Kreuz to join her. Together, they created multi-carrier shipping software for e-commerce businesses. This software offers tools like label printing, analytics, and rate comparison.

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Mural 

Valuation: $2 billion (2021)

Headquarters: San Francisco, California and Buenos Aires, Argentina

This startup, which was founded by Argentina-born Agustin Soler, Mariano Suarez-Battan and Patricio Jutard, builds digital collaboration software with a focus on visual presentation. 

The company launched in 2011 as a digital whiteboard app after one of the founders realized it was difficult to communicate remotely with colleagues designing video games for Disney. Their software is rapidly growing and seeing success. Mural has gone on to be a trusted resource of leading companies such as IBM and Microsoft.

Mercury

Valuation: $1.6 billion (2021)

Headquarters: San Francisco, California

Born in Pakistan and raised in the U.K., Immad Akhund immigrated to the U.S. to join Y Combinator with his startup Heyzap, which he later sold for $45 million. In 2019, he launched Mercury, the financial technology designed for tech-focused businesses, eventually raising over $163 million. The platform offers banking services to startups of any size or stage. 

When Silicon Valley’s Bank collapsed earlier this year, 26,000 new customers joined Mercury within four months. In the first few days, the company saw more than $2 billion in new deposits. 

Intercom

Valuation: $1.3 billion (2021)

Headquarters: San Francisco, California

If you’ve ever had to contact customer support, it’s a good chance you may have been speaking with someone using Intercom. Founded in 2011 by Irish entrepreneurs Eoghan McCabe, Des Traynor, Ciaran Lee, and David Barrett, this company specializes in all things related to customer service. They offer an array of services, including live chat support, an AI chatbot and more in order to help teams manage customer requests. Almost 1,000 customers are now using Intercom’s AI to answer half of their support questions instantly and consistently. 

The past few years have been dramatic for the company: Eoghan McCabe had to give up his job as CEO because of an autoimmune disease. A year ago, however, he returned to lead the company in his previous role. 

Chipper Cash

Valuation: $1.25 billion (2022)

Headquarters: San Francisco, California

Similar to Venmo, Chippo Cash allows users to send money directly to bank and mobile money accounts in more than 21 African countries. The idea took root when Uganda-born Ham Serunjogi saw his father struggle with moving money through the banking system while training in the national Youth Olympic team. According to the entrepreneur, one day his father even had to hop on a plane to deliver an envelope of cash to pay his swim coach because he couldn’t make a bank transfer. 

Serunjogi then met Maijid Moujaled, a Ghanaian computer science major at a small liberal arts college in Iowa. Years later, the founders shared a studio apartment and used their combined savings of less than $30,000 to create Chipper Cash. The founders faced rejection from VCs who were reluctant to invest in Africa.

Finally, at the moment when Serunjogi was about to miss rent, 500 Startups invested $150,000.  Chipper Cash ended up raising $250 million in total. But during the funding crisis of 2022, the startup laid off 12.5% of staff and took a valuation cut to $1.25 billion from $2 billion.

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