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The Foreign 500: American brands, built by immigrant entrepreneurs

Ball Park Franks smothered in Hunt’s Ketchup. Kraft American cheese melting on burgers. Maybe a tall glass of Country Time Lemonade.

One week ago, that was the scene around many a cookout as Americans celebrated Independence Day. Indeed, fittingly, each of the three companies behind those beloved foods hails from right here the United States.

However, the same cannot be said of their founders.

Dozens of iconic companies, including Kraft, ConAgra and Sara Lee, referenced above, were started by entrepreneurs born in other countries who later moved to the United States. The list includes massive technology firms, like Yahoo and Google, as well as some of the world’s largest financial powers, like Capital One and Goldman Sachs.

In total, more than 40 percent of the Fortune 500 firms were started by immigrants or children of immigrants, including seven of the 10 most valuable brands in the world, according to a study by The Partnership for a New American Economy, a coalition of governors and business leaders led by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

More recently, a study commissioned by the National Venture Capital Association showed foreign-born entrepreneurs are now responsible for even more initial public offerings and economic growth than they were before the recession.

“The findings show even with the onerous process [in place today], there continues to be an uptick, but we think you’d find we’d have more companies, better companies funded by the venture capital community if you gave opportunities to others to stay or come to the country,” Mark Heesen, the association’s outgoing president, told The Post’s Steven Overly.

The subject has floated to the forefront in Washington as lawmakers consider a comprehensive immigration reform bill that would create a new class of “startup visa” for non-native entrepreneurs. The bill would offer up to 10,000 new temporary visas to any immigrant that creates at least five jobs and raises at least $500,000 from angel investors, venture capitalists or other investment groups.

The proposal was prompted in part by a recent dip in business-formation rates by immigrants as well as mounting competition from other countries. The Senate approved the legislation, but it faces an uphill road in the House.

“America has always been a magnet for the world’s most talented and hardest working,” New York City Mayor Bloomberg said following the introduction of a similar but more targeted piece of legislation last year. “But we are quickly losing our edge as other countries adopt smarter economic-driven immigration policies.”

For a look at some of the other iconic American brands started by entrepreneurs born outside the United States, check out the gallery above.

What’s your take on the start-up visa proposal? Good or bad policy? Share your take in the comments below.

Follow On Small Business and J.D. Harrison .

J.D. Harrison covers startups, small business and entrepreneurship, with a focus on public policy, and he runs the On Small Business blog.
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