6 top startup accelerators for immigrant founders

Choosing the right accelerator can sometimes determine success or failure for international entrepreneurs who rarely have a strong support network. Which is right for you? Here are some diversity-focused accelerators that support immigrant founders.

Last year, Lior Klisman, a serial entrepreneur originally from Israel,  turned his American dream into reality when he sold his IT security services startup, Sentant, for an undisclosed amount. 

Many immigrant founders, however, give up on their dreams rather than succeed simply because they don’t have a sense of belonging, Kinsman said. “They don’t have friends or a community. But accelerators help immigrant entrepreneurs understand what they should expect in the U.S.”

Founders Space Accelerator for Immigrants

When Steve Hoffman, co-founder of Founders Space, started his innovation hub in Silicon Valley over 10 years ago, he noticed that many entrepreneurs in need of help were coming from overseas.

“A lot of these entrepreneurs don’t really understand the U.S. market and what VCs are looking for,” he said. “And, even if they do, they don’t understand how to present their business.”  

Founders Space helps internationally diverse entrepreneurs to overcome these cultural barriers. The accelerator connects founders with a network of experts, as well as helps with legal advice, logistics, and team building. The programs run from two weeks to six months, with up to 20 startups at a time.

Unshackled Ventures US Accelerator for Immigrants

Founded in 2015 by Manan Mehta and Nitin Pachisia, Unshackled Ventures provides funding to early-stage startups launched by immigrants. 

Although the company is not an accelerator as such, most of the startups it has invested in started with nothing but an idea and the founding team. Unshackled Ventures also helps international founders with visa sponsorship, immigration support, and other resources. 

In June, despite an overall difficult fundraising environment, the firm received $35 million toward pre-seed investments in startups launched by immigrant entrepreneurs.  

Weve Accelerator for Immigrants

This NYC-based accelerator focuses on assisting international startups  that have an eye on U.S. expansion.  Weve’s main focus is helping entrepreneurs to embrace cultural differences.  

“The way that you do business from one culture to another is entirely different,” said Frances Simowitz, CEO at Weve. “It’s those little nuances and relationships that make a huge difference in terms of your success and credibility in the market.”

She recommends international founders to look for accelerators with a history of bringing international startups to success.  

“Americans are very America-centric,” Simowitz said. “We think that all innovation and anything that matters happens here, but international founders are building incredible technologies that are changing the world.”

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Starta – Best US Accelerator for Immigrant Founders

NYC-based Starta has worked with more than 200 international startups seeking to establish their presence in the U.S. According to the accelerator’s partner Anastasia Lykova, the decision to focus on immigrants is driven by a recognition of their contribution to the American economy.

“It’s well known that over 50% of all U.S.-based unicorns are immigrant founded or co-founded, and we also see a great work ethic and dedication,” says Lykova. 

Starta has also launched Elpis Labs, an initiative that focuses specifically on immigrant fempreneuers in tech. Even though many immigrant entrepreneurs are successful in their countries, entering the U.S. market represents challenges unrelated to experience.  

“Simple adaptation milestones can take 1- 3 years for market newcomers,” said Lykova. “We help reduce that time to 3 months by customizing our  program to address these challenges.”

Y Combinator – US Accelerator for Founders

California-headquartered Y Combinator is considered a pioneer in the accelerator space, with 1,834 investments and 192 exits. It has helped fund and develop many successful international startups. Two of them are companies launched by Tracy Young called PlanGrid and TigerEye. Young says that she owes her success to her immigrant family backstory.

The accelerator’s investment focus has expanded significantly in recent years, supporting companies around the world. Y Combinator has invested in more than 80 African startups, including Flutterwave, Paystack, Kobo360, and Cowrywise. In the previous cohort, Indian companies dominated the charts, according to TechCrunch

This year, however, Y Combinator is more focused on the Bay Area and has stepped back from international investments. Representation from both India and Africa has decreased significantly. In the winter 2023 batch, only 21% of publicly announced startups were based internationally, compared to 42% in the previous cohort.   

500 Global – Accelerator for Immigrant

In 2010, 500 Global became one of the first venture capital companies to offer an acceleration program. It’s now providing region-specific programs around the world. The accelerator is active in more than 15 countries, including Latin America, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Korea, Japan, and Egypt. 

The firm has invested in over 2,700 startups worldwide, and more than half of 500 Global investments are from outside the U.S. Nine of the accelerator’s 28 unicorns are coming from countries such as Australia (Canva), Mexico (Clip), India (Cars24), and other countries. 

The acceptance rate for 500 Startups, Y Combinator, and other prestigious acceleration programs is less than 2%, which is more competitive than Stanford (4.3%) and Harvard (4.6%).

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