The Story of Two Immigrant Entrepreneurs

Immigrants are more likely than natives to start businesses, according to the Kauffman Foundation. “For immigrants, 530 out of 100,000 people start a business each month, compared to 280 out of 100,000 native-born people,” notes the foundation. Other studies have found a similar propensity of immigrants to start companies. However, what informs us best about remarkable immigrant entrepreneurs is not studies but the individual stories of such people. Here are the stories of two such entrepreneurs.

Nancy Chang, Taiwanese-born Co-Founder of Tanox

photos.state.gov“If you really believe in something, the best approach is to invest yourself in that idea,” said Dr. Nancy Chang, co-founder of Tanox, a biotechnology company based in Houston, Texas that was purchased by Genentech.

Not many people take undergraduate classes from one professor who is a future Nobel Prize winner (Yuan T. Lee) and another who would go on to become the nation’s prime minister. Nancy says her good fortune to learn under these teachers gave her the courage to leave Taiwan and study at Brown in 1974, barely able to speak English. On the plane ride to America she read James Watson’s book on the discovery of the double helix, which led to changing her academic focus to biology, even though she had never taken a course on the subject.

The following year, Nancy Chang became one of the first international students to attend Harvard Medical School and, she was told, the medical school’s first major entrepreneur. After Harvard, she was hired at Hoffman-La Roche on a work visa and later became director of the molecular biology group for Centocor. She also has taught at the Baylor College of Medicine and holds seven patents.

In 1986, she co-founded Tanox and served as CEO from 1990 to 2006. Starting Tanox was “part passion and dream and went against the textbook” by developing an asthma drug that focused on the allergy-related basis of asthma. At the time, this ran counter to the central belief in how asthma operated. The perseverance paid off when in June 2003, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Xolair, the first biotech product cleared for treating those with asthma related to allergies. Xolair was developed under an agreement among Tanox, Inc., Genentech, Inc., and Novartis Pharma AG.

When Tanox went public in April 2000 on the NASDAQ, it raised $244 million, which at the time was the largest biotech initial public offering. Dr. Chang said she is passionate about AIDS, since as a young researcher she worked in one of the first laboratories to confront the disease. Tanox developed TNX-355, an antibody for the treatment of HIV/AIDS. Genentech licensed TNX-355, known as Ibalizumab, to TaiMed Biologics.

“I came to the United States frightened and scared. But I found if you do well and if you have a dream you will find people in America willing to help and give you an opportunity,” said Dr. Chang. “Life is very rich. I just love this country.”

Asa Kalavade, Indian-born Co-Founder of Tatara Systems and Umber Systems

photos.state.govTwenty or so years ago, it might have been considered improbable for a young woman in India to found her own technology business. “Even when I just started studying engineering people came to my parents to talk them out of it, never mind starting my own company,” said Asa Kalavade.

Asa came to America as an international student and received a master’s and Ph.D. in electrical engineering and computer science from the University of California at Berkeley. While most people think of wireless networks and streaming as relatively new technologies, Asa has worked on these technologies for a decade and a half. Early in her career at Bell Labs, Asa invented patent-pending technologies for wireless multimedia streaming, network interfaces, and real-time multiprocessor DSP (digital signal processing) systems. She holds multiple patents.

After serving as vice president of Technology at Savos, she founded Tatara Systems along with an immigrant from China, Hong Jiang. Based in Acton, Massachusetts, the privately held Tatara Systems, which provides technology for mobile services for companies like Vodafone, employs 60 people.

After Tatara Systems, Asa became a founder and chief technology officer of Umber Systems, a mobile data analytics company based in Concord, MA. Asa’s two siblings are both in the United States working as electrical engineers. Her Indian-born husband has started his second company, Tizor Systems. “We’re serial entrepreneurs,” said Asa.

Risk Takers

 
Asa Kalavade and Nancy Chang both took risks as young women coming to study in demanding fields in a new country far from their families. Both women sought opportunity and achieved the American Dream. In achieving that dream, they also made a great difference in the lives of many Americans. That is the story of immigrants to this country.

Blowing hot and cold

As many news reports noted, the past week was significant just for the numbers of Indian ministers in the United States at a given point in time. However, the more did not necessarily make the merrier.

cdn.wn.comNo less than nine members of the Indian Council of Ministers were in the US, including the primus inter pares, PM Manmohan Singh. The PM was in the  U.S. to address a session of the UN General Assembly and  his speech was notable, as one commentator put it, for its reference to “old ideological positions and  old constitutencies,” meant to signal his “disappointment with the West.” The PM seemed to emphasise the point by having a bilateral meeting with an old foe of the West, Iranian President Ahmedinajad, an event described by another commentator as a virtual affront to the United States. What India has to be disappointed about is unclear, and whether the disappointment will be followed up with distancing remains to be seen. Whether that is the most appropriate strategy is also moot in the rapidly changing global scenario.

Many of the Ministers, from Commerce to Power, to Finance were in the U.S. to drum up investment for mega- infrastructure projects back home. There were the usual assortment of think tank reports and seminars that usually coincide with such ministerial visits, but increasingly, they offer only new wine in old bottles, reflecting the current stalemate, if not slump, in relations.  An address by the recently promoted Deputy Secretary William J Burns at the Brookings Institution was even titled “Is there a Future for the US-India Partnership?

Commerce Minister Anand Sharma made a valiant effort to break the logjam on the Totalization Agreement issue but came a cropper. This issue has been attacked from various angles, having earlier being piloted by the Minister of Overseas Indian Affairs. Mr Sharma made the point to his interlocutors that there was no reason not to sign an agreement with India pleading incompatibility between social security systems since India had signed totalisation agreements with many European countries  with which the U.S. had an agreement but this argument cut no ice.  This was not surprising since Under Secretary Blake had made it clear in his last read-out on US-India relations that the U.S. was in no mood to transfer over a billion dollars to India in the current economic mess it found itself in. There was also talk of progress made on a Bilateral Investment Treaty, even though it is almost as if when one side blows hot, the other side blows cold.

The other legs of the relationship, business and the diaspora, can, at best only play a supporting role, and are to an extent affected by the buffeting winds of the strategic relationship. The India-US CEOs forum also held its annual meeting in Washington this past week, but has increasingly less to show for being such a high-powered gathering. While India has a ready-made constituency in the U.S. in the form of the Indian Diaspora, Hillary Clinton’s public diplomacy initiatives are beginning to show results at least in India, with U.S. embassies and missions making all out efforts to engage with the average Indian through all the resources available from   social media to innovative meetups titled Charcha, Chai aur Coffee. The American Center in Delhi even provides a venue for Startup Saturday, a forum for young entrepreneurs to come together to share and learn from each other.

The blow hot, blow cold phase of the relationship into which we have entered seems set to continue into the foreseeable future with, as William Burns himself admitted in his speech, both governments distracted and pulled in different direction by a combination of domestic and external issues.

Troubles increase for the US-Pak relationship

The post-Osama phase of the US-Pakistan relationship is proving to be extremely turbulent. The swift U.S. reaction to the attack on its embassy in Kabul and the killing of the chief Afghan government negotiator, former president Rabbani, led to an equally strong backlash from the Pakistani establishment.

www.mca-marines.orgIn a scathing indictment of the Pakistan security establishment, Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, told the Senate Armed Services Committee, “…the Quetta Shoora and the Haqqani Network operate from Pakistan with impunity. Extremist organizations serving as proxies of the government of Pakistan are attacking Afghan troops and civilians as well as US soldiers. For example, we believe the Haqqani Network – which has long enjoyed the support and protection of the Pakistani government and is, in many ways, a strategic arm of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Agency – is responsible for the September 13th attacks against the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.”

“We strongly reject assertions of complicity with the Haqqanis or of proxy war,” Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani said. “The allegations betray confusion and policy disarray within the U.S. establishment on the way forward in Afghanistan.” General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff dismissed the charge as “very unfortunate and not based on facts.” Hina Rabbani Khar, Pakistan’s foreign minister, warned that Washington “could lose an ally” if it keeps humiliating Pakistan with unsubstantiated allegations.

The international community has known for long that the Pakistan army and the ISI follow a Janus-faced policy on Afghanistan. While pretending to be allies in the ‘war on terror’, they are careful to target only those terrorist organisations that strike within Pakistan, like the TTP and the TNSM, and nurture and support the Afghan Taliban and their sympathisers. In February 2009, David Sanger, New York Times correspondent, had written in his new book The Inheritance that in a transcript passed to Mike McConnell, the Director of National Intelligence in May 2008, General Kayani was overheard referring to Maulavi Jalaluddin Haqqani as “a strategic asset”. This had led to the first few armed UAV strikes against the Haqqani network based in North Waziristan inside Pakistan’s FATA province.

While U.S. frustration with Pakistani duplicity is understandable, the U.S. still has 98,000 troops in Afghanistan and is still dependent on the two land routes through Peshawar and Quetta for the logistics sustenance of its own and other NATO-ISAF forces. Though it could step up armed UAV strikes and even launch air strikes into North Waziristan, it does not have the capability to launch follow-on air assault strikes. Also, ground strikes will surely lead to war with Pakistan and war, with all its nuclear overtones, is not in anybody’s interest.

What the U.S. can do is to carefully calibrate the aid being given to Pakistan and make the government and the army accountable for cooperation in the war on terror. The Pakistan army and the ISI must not be allowed to get away with impunity for their support to terrorist organisations operating against the US and NATO-ISAF forces as well as in India. It should also consider rescinding its alliance with Pakistan when the bulk of troops are drawn down by 2014. As Stephen Cohen has put it so eloquently, “India is a friend, but not an ally; and, Pakistan is an ally, but not a friend.”

Red Lines and Reversed Roles

The South China Sea controversy demonstrates how Beijing’s actions will inevitably draw Washington and New Delhi closer together.

The respective security roles that the United States and India traditionally play in East Asia seemed to switch last week. By deciding not to supply Taiwan with the new fighter aircraft it has requested, the U.S. appeared to defer to China, which had cautioned that the sale was a “red line” that must not be crossed. In contrast, New Delhi’s determined sally into the South China Sea, in defiance of Beijing’s explicit warnings, exemplified the strategic assertion that the Obama administration has been urging on India. The dichotomy offers a glimpse of the shifting power dynamics now underway in Asia and, perhaps, a preview of what the regional security order might look like beyond the horizon.

america20xy.comThe U.S. decision to refurbish Taiwan’s aging F-16 fleet rather than provide it with more sophisticated versions of the aircraft is taken by some in Asia as the latest sign of China’s ascent and America’s subsidence in the western Pacific, an area long thought of as a U.S. lake. The Associated Press reported that Philippine Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin sees the decision primarily as a function of Beijing’s growing financial leverage vis-à-vis Washington. “It has a large debt and if China will try to apply pressure, the U.S. can end up in trouble,” he said. “The U.S. has to temper its relations with Taiwan for China.” The report also quoted a South Korean defense analyst as saying that some in that country have reached the conclusion that it would be better to bandwagon with China than continue to adhere to the decades-old security alliance with the United States.

By striking coincidence, a similar storyline was being replicated last week in another part of the world in which Washington has long exercised sway. Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner put in an unprecedented appearance at a gathering of European finance officials called to address the region’s burgeoning debt crisis. His presence was intended to signal U.S. concern about the spillover potential of Europe’s financial woes. But some in the audience did not take kindly to his telling them what to do.  Both the Austrian and Belgian finance ministers tartly questioned how the Americans could presume to dispense advice when their own fiscal house is in such visible disarray. One media commentator observed the proceedings underscore that “in the wake of the debt-ceiling debacle, Geithner has lost a significant amount of international heft.” The Europeans, on the other, are much more interested these days in China’s views. With Beijing sitting on top of the world’s largest pile of foreign exchange, regional leaders have started to look to it as a potential financial savior.

India’s actions last week, in contrast, were the very definition of foreign policy steadfastness. On a visit to Vietnam, Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna announced that the overseas arm of India’s state-owned Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) would proceed with hydrocarbon exploration activities in the South China Sea, an energy-rich area that in claimed in almost its entirety by Beijing. China has been increasingly brusque in asserting its claim of “indisputable sovereignty” over the waters, which it last year elevated to a “core national interest.” The marker Krishna laid down comes two months after Beijing warned New Delhi against involving itself in the area and after an unusual incident between the INS Airavat, an amphibious warfare vessel, and the Chinese navy off the coast of Vietnam.

New Delhi’s temerity sparked a passionate reaction in the China Times, a nationalist tabloid affiliated with the Communist Party. It lashed out in a lead editorial that India was engaged in “a serious political provocation” that constitutes a major challenge to China’s national resolve. It urged the Chinese leadership to use “every means possible” to reverse Indian actions. And in what seemed to be a retaliatory move, Beijing quickly announced that it would expand seabed explorations in the southwestern Indian Ocean.

Media commentary in India saw things differently. A Times of India editorial averred that “India has done well to hold its ground” and termed the ONGC move as a befitting response to the infrastructure projects China is conducting in the disputed territory of Kashmir. In a similar vein, Harsh V. Pant, a well-known foreign policy expert, noted that if “China wants to expand its presence in South Asia and the Indian Ocean region, New Delhi’s thinking goes, India can do the same thing in East Asia.” And M.K. Bhadrakumar, a former Indian diplomat, called India’s actions “a historic move,” arguing that “India’s ‘Look East’ policy acquires swagger.  The Sino-Indian geostrategic rivalry is not going to be the same again.”

Observing the train of events, Time magazine’s “Global Spin” blog asked “Is This How Wars Start?” Of course, a booming bilateral economic relationship gives New Delhi and Beijing strong reason to moderate impulses toward outright military conflict. But as both countries continue simultaneously to rise in power and prestige, dynamics of competition and one-upmanship will inevitability deepen. This pattern is already evident in their Himalayan border area, in Burma and elsewhere in the Indian Ocean region and as far afield as Africa. And as last week’s events demonstrate, the South China Sea is now emerging as a new arena for strategic rivalry.

Pundits in Washington who doubt the prospects for the United States and India conjoining in a coalition directed against China should take note. The meteoric rise of Beijing’s power and the assertiveness in which it is exercised will ineluctably draw Washington and New Delhi even closer together. As a former U.S. official once predicted, “we don’t need to talk about the containment of China. It will take care of itself as India rises.”

Ambassador Blues

Maneuvers surrounding the appointment of a new U.S. ambassador in New Delhi cast light on Washington’s outlook on India.

There are two ways to look at the quixotic, widely derided campaign by Brad Sherman, a Democratic member of the U.S. Congress from the Los Angeles area, to have Cruz Bustamante, a former lieutenant governor of California, appointed the next U.S. ambassador in New Delhi. Both approaches capture a slice of reality and yet are mutually contradictory. Taken together, however, they form a good picture of Washington’s current outlook on India.

Continue reading