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Immigrants Launched Lots Of New US Unicorns, But Numbers May Be Headed Lower

A majority of the most valuable public U.S. technology companies have an immigrant as founder or chief executive. But does that still hold true for the current generation of high-valuation startups?

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To answer that question, Crunchbase took a look at founders and CEOs across several groupings of startup unicorns. The research included the most heavily funded private companies, newly minted unicorns and companies that recently crossed the $5 billion valuation mark.

The short answer? Yes, immigrants are still heavily represented in the ranks of U.S. unicorn founders and CEOs. They hail from multiple continents, and are leading companies in sectors from e-commerce to crypto to pharmaceuticals.

The long answer? Yes, but maybe less so. Early data indicates the proportion of high-valuation U.S. startups founded or led by immigrants may be trending down some. One factor is the growth of startup hubs outside the U.S., making it easier for founders to launch companies in their home country. The other, most notorious factor: the hurdles of securing a visa as a would-be startup founder.

“There is no visa specifically for someone who wants to start a company,” according to Manan Mehta, founding partner at Unshackled Ventures, a Silicon Valley-based firm that invests in U.S. startups with immigrant founders.

While U.S. student enrollment of foreign nationals roughly doubled from 2007 to 2018, there hasn’t been a corresponding strategy to speed or simplify graduates’ pursuit of a green card, Mehta said. And although that issue predates Trump’s election, the current administration hasn’t helped, deciding not to implement an Obama-era visa program for startup founders.

Still, a striking percentage of funded private companies that crossed the $1 billion valuation threshold this past year are immigrant founded. Below, we take a look at 19 such companies, along with a look founders’ countries of origin.

We also look at the most heavily funded, highest-valuation private companies overall with immigrant founders and CEOs.

The big picture

If investors are backing fewer immigrant-led U.S. startups, it may be because there are fewer available to back. For the 2018-19 period, U.S. immigration declined to 595,000 people—the lowest level since the 1980s, according to one oft-cited study. It’s a level that leaves even some members of the Trump administration’s inner circle concerned that immigration levels are too low to support economic growth.

Of course, one needn’t be a new immigrant to launch a high-flying startup. Many of the successful founders on our lists above immigrated years or decades before their companies took flight. The lists, overall, include immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children as well as those who came later, commonly to attend universities.

Lastly, we should keep in mind that immigration, like unicorns, venture funding and startup valuations, has historically been rather cyclical. The issues confronting immigrant founders today may very well fade away or morph into something completely different in coming years.

Illustration: Li-Anne Dias.

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More companies are implementing work-from-home policies in the midst of escalated concerns over the coronavirus. As such, it’s no surprise that…

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Boston’s year jump starts as two local startups raise $520M in two rounds

Hello and welcome back to our regular morning look at private companies, public markets and the gray space in between.

Late last week two Boston-based companies raised big rounds. The size of the two investments — each over the $100 million mark — and their rapid succession made them stand out.

The pair of investments raised a question: Is Boston seeing an acceleration in the pace at which it attracts venture capital? Of course, Toast raising $400 million and Flywire raising $120 million within a day of each other does not, by itself, constitute a trend. So we’ve pulled some recent, and historical data from Boston to figure out what’s up.

Today let’s take a look at how many rounds of $50 million or more, and $100 million or more, have been raised in Boston so far in 2020 compared to the city’s full-year 2019 results from each category. We’ll be able to see if Boston is ahead of the pace it set last year. This will let us know if Boston’s venture scene is heating up, or cooling thus far in 2020. (Recall that we wrote about the Northeast in December, and found its venture activity to be intense.)

We’ll start with a quick peek at the Flywire and Toast rounds, and then dig into the data.

Winged Bread

Toast, Boston’s restaurant payment processing unicorn, put together $400 million in fresh funding last week, adding to its preceding haul of just over $500 million in known capital. The company, founded in 2011, has now raised $902 million, according to Crunchbase.

Source: TechCrunch

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Boston’s Newest Unicorn: Flywire Raises $120M In Goldman Sachs-Led Series E

Flywire, a Boston-based vertical payments startup, has raised $120 million in a Series E round that takes its valuation to “over $1 billion.”

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Goldman Sachs (which has been ramping up its startup investment as of late) led the round, which also included participation from Tiger Management and Adage Capital Management along with existing backer Temasek Holdings, which used its pro rata, according to Flywire.

The new financing takes Flywire’s total venture raised since its 2011 inception to $263.2 million, according to Crunchbase data.

Flywire also announced it has acquired Simplee, a developer of payments software for the health care industry that had raised $36.4 million in venture capital funding.

In a phone conversation with Flywire CEO Mike Massaro, I learned more about what the company does and how much it’s grown. He was refreshingly transparent.

So, let’s get into the details.

More than software

Fundamentally, Flywire is a payments company but it has also built software to help process payments. (Which makes it both a SaaS operator and a transactions platform.) Its focus is on the education, health care and travel industry verticals.

“All three are fraught with a lack of digitization, and are inherently complex with legacy systems involved,” Massaro told Crunchbase News. “We think these areas have been underserved.”

Flywire CEO Mike Massaro

To date Flywire says it has processed over $12 billion in total payments volume for over 2,000 clients around the world. Seven of the eight Ivy League schools use it to collect cross-border payments, for example. As do hundreds of hospitals, including the top four hospital systems in the United States. People going on exotic trips such as African safaris can use it during their travel.

“We don’t just deliver the software that helps around payments,” Massaro said. “We actually move the money.” In fact, it claims to “move billions of dollars across 200+ countries and 150 currencies.”

Flywire has two revenue streams. It makes SaaS revenue off the software it’s using to help clients such as Harvard, MIT or Massachusetts General Hospital. But the majority of its revenue is transaction-based.

Speaking of which, Flywire is a unicorn with “well over $100 million in revenue,” according to Massaro. Despite being around for nine years, it’s still seeing nearly 40 percent revenue growth year over year, he said.

It also has 530 employees, which is 10 times the 50 it had just five years ago.

Massaro expects Flywire to return to profitability this year, and said the company has been “very capital efficient.”

“Prior to this round, we had $45 miillion in cash on the balance sheet, and now we have about $75 million to $80 million,” he told me. “And we don’t expect to burn a lot this year.”


In acquiring Simplee, Flywire picked up a competitor, sort of. Flywire has historically focused on the provider side, helping digitize their back offices. Simplee is focused more on the patient experience.

“We both help providers engage their patients digitally,” Massaro said. “They can help explain the cost of patients’ medical care, and how much they owe insurance, in addition to helping them digitize payments.”

With the buy, Flywire also expanded its geographical footprint, as Simplee has offices in Palo Alto and Tel Aviv. In addition to its Boston headquarters, Flywire has 10 offices, including locations in Europe and Asia.

Last year, the company expanded into Latin America and plans to continue that expansion geographically. It also plans to double down on all its verticals.

Illustration: Li-Anne Dias

Restaurant management startup Toast raised $400 million in a new round of funding, boosting its valuation to $4.9 billion.

Austin-based Bill Wood Ventures and consulting giant McKinsey & Company put money in the round.

São Paulo-based co-living startup Yuca has raised a $4.7 million pre-seed round led by Brazil’s Monashees.

Source: Crunchbase News