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Foreign Entrepreneurs Finding the American Dream

The U.S. is an attractive place for small biz -- just ask these successful immigrant business owners.

It's hard enough to start a small business in your own country, let alone in a foreign land.

However, there are countless entrepreneurs who've found success after immigrating to the U.S. with little more than an idea for a business. It's the old story of the American Dream.

According to a May 2007 study by the

Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, incoming Asians, Latinos and others outpaced native-born Americans in entrepreneurial activity last year. The immigrant rate of entrepreneurial activity increased from 0.35% in 2005 to 0.37 % in 2006; similar to previous years, this rate was substantially higher than that for the native-born population (0.27%).

Finding Opportunity

Russian immigrant Alex Konanykhin, 40, ran a successful banking and investment business in Russia but was kidnapped on a business trip to Budapest in 1992. He managed to escape, decided to come to the U.S. and eventually was granted asylum here.

He recently wrote about his fascinating, life-changing events in

Defiance, or How to Succeed in Business Despite Being Hounded by the FBI, the KGB, the INS, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice, Interpol, and Mafia Hit Men


Konanykhin, then 25, arrived in the U.S. without any baggage, money or even the ability to speak English, which forced him to learn quickly and take advantage of opportunities. "It took courage to jump on a new opportunity. Many people wait too long trying not to take risks, but taking risks is what makes entrepreneurship possible," Konanykhin points out.

Due to his hard work, he's found success again. He started online multimedia creation company

KMGI in 1997 and boasts prominent clients including





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Konanykhin advises any entrepreneur -- immigrant or not -- to always be aware of new approaches.

KMGI, for instance, began with 35 employees working in one location, but it eventually transitioned into a virtual office. The company's employees save time by not commuting, and they benefit from working with the very best people in the industry, because Konanykhin can look globally, not locally, to hire. This also ends up benefiting the client in terms of getting the best expertise.

Another Russian immigrant, Leo Grzhonko, 31, is president of online video advertising agency, which he founded in January.

In Grzhonko's experience, the U.S. offers entrepreneurs countless advantages, notably in the process of starting up, registering and licensing a new business -- which can be prohibitively costly and time-consuming overseas, especially in Western Europe. Here in the U.S., however, it is relatively cheap to do, and your risks in opening a new company are very low, Grzhonko says.

And when you look at running a business in third-world countries, they are not only bureaucratic and expensive but also often unregulated or corrupt, Grzhonko adds.

Running a company in the U.S. is easy compared with running one in any country in Latin America, explains Silvina Moschini, 35, originally from Argentina and founder of

Intuic, a public relations company based in Miami.

"In Argentina, there is too much paperwork that the local government requires," says Moschini.

Success did not come overnight. When she moved to the U.S., it was extremely hard to find a job in public relations, her area of expertise. Moschini had to work as a waitress for some time until she was hired to lead the Latin American Public Relations department of Compaq.

After Compaq was acquired by


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in 2002, she moved to the head of public relations for, the Internet arm of

Grupo Santander Central Hispano

, one of the largest banks in the world, until she accepted an offer to become vice president of corporate communications for

Visa International


"My extensive work experience in major public companies allowed me to launch a successful PR agency when I felt ready to become an entrepreneur," says Moschini.

The contacts she developed while working for Compaq and then Visa provided unparalleled references and referrals and helped her to land her first accounts. She founded Intuic in 2003, confident in her ability to run her own business, and quickly landed clients such as


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Moschini is a big believer in the potential for the U.S. marketplace to make dreams comes true. "America is a wonderland of opportunities for entrepreneurs. It is a country that offers endless possibilities for individuals with the talent, drive and determination to make things happen," she says.

Two Perspectives, One Goal

Vienna native Sascha Ghods and Russian business partner Alina Jidkova started online jewelry vendor

Be My Pearl in 2005.

About four years ago, while Ghods and Jidkova were traveling in Asia, they visited a local market, where they conceived of their business idea.

Ghods always viewed the U.S. as the land of opportunity. He came to the U.S. when he was 18 and put himself through San Diego State University, where he eventually earned a B.A. "I always saw the U.S. as the county

where if you work hard, you can achieve anything you want," says Ghods.

Neither Ghods nor Jidkova were in the jewelry business previously, but both did their homework. "We researched the businesses, did a lot of work, looked at the numbers and saw it was something we could do," says Ghods.

They found that starting a business in the U.S was much more streamlined than in other locations. "In other countries, there is a lot more bureaucracy. In the U.S., you have a dream and a passion, just pick it up and go for it," says Ghods.

In addition, taxes here are much lower than in much of Europe, where in some cases 50% to 60% of one's income is taxed, says Ghods.

Managing a U.S.-based online business is also easier, because English is widespread. "If I run a Web site in Austria, people in other parts of Europe would not be able to understand it. Here in the U.S., it doesn't matter if someone is in the middle of Texas or Los Angeles," Ghods points out.

Their work has paid off: Be My Pearl's first year's sales were $500,000, says Ghods, and this year's sales are expected to be about $700,000.

Starting a business in the most favorable environment is always a good idea, but still, being a successful entrepreneur is not necessarily dependent on where you grew up or even where you've relocated. Drive, ambition and persistence are what's needed -- in any language.