Immigrant Innovators: 30 Entrepreneurs Who Made a Difference

Immigrant Innovators: 30 Entrepreneurs Who Made a Difference


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An inspiring children’s biography collection, Immigrant Innovators highlights the stories of 30 immigrant entrepreneurs who have made it big in America.

Geared toward readers ages 8–12, the book features people from around the world who played a major role in establishing global companies and products. These entrepreneurs come from more than 25 countries and have been successful in a wide range of fields, from energy bars (KIND), yogurt (Chobani), and restaurant chains (Panda Express), to dominant industry players like YouTube and Tesla. The book includes full-page illustrated portraits of each entrepreneur as well as colorful infographics throughout.

Immigrant Innovators is a celebration of the immigrant experience—both the triumphs and the challenges—and an important reminder of the strength that comes from a broad and diverse population.

Included, among others, are:
  • Ayah Bdeir, Lebanon, littleBits
  • Rihanna, Barbados, Fenty Beauty
  • Marcus Samuelsson, Ethiopia, Chef
  • Hamdi Ulukaya, Turkey, Chobani
  • Max Levchin, Ukraine, PayPal
  • Mike Krieger, Brazil, Instagram                  
  • Daniel Lubetzky, Mexico, KIND Snacks
  • Adi Tatarko and Alon Cohen, Israel, Houzz
  • Luis von Ahn, Guatemala, Duolingo
  • Pierre Omidyar, France, eBay
  • Laura Behrens Wu, Germany, Shippo 
  • José Andrés, Spain, Founder of World Central Kitchen

Also includes infographics like:
  • Pioneering Entrepreneurs
  • Kids of Immigrants
  • Immigrant Entrepreneurs: By the Numbers
  • What Kind of Entrepreneur Are You?

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781950500277
Publisher: duopress
Publication date: 10/27/2020
Pages: 128
Sales rank: 1,224,109
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.10(h) x 0.70(d)
Age Range: 8 - 12 Years

About the Author

Samantha Chagollan is an award-winning author and editor of a variety of children's fiction and nonfiction books. A native of Southern California, Samantha grew up in Orange County. She earned a bachelor’s degree in literature from Humboldt State University in Arcata, California, where she focused her studies on multicultural literature and the Spanish language. Through these studies, she took a deeper dive into the heritage of her paternal grandparents and found a deep admiration for the determination and dedication it took for them to immigrate to the United States from Mexico in the 1920s. Without their sacrifices, she recognizes with appreciation that none of the successes of their children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren would have been possible. Samantha lives in Costa Mesa, California, with her husband, Matt, and when she’s not writing, she enjoys spending time with her dogs, painting, and teaching yoga.

Calef Brown is the author and illustrator of thirteen books for children, including Polkabats and Octopus Slacks: 14 Stories; Flamingos on the Roof: Poems and Paintings—a New York Times bestseller; The Ghostly Carousel; and most recently, Up Verses Down (2019). He has also illustrated the work of a variety of authors, including James Thurber, Daniel Pinkwater, Edward Lear, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Brown’s illustrations have appeared in Newsweek, The New Yorker, Rolling Stone, Time, and many other publications, and he has created art for murals, packaging, and animation. He lives and works in Providence, Rhode Island.

Read an Excerpt

Mike Krieger
Cofounder of Instagram
What if you created an app used all over the world? Imagine a billion people connecting and sharing ideas with your platform. Amazing invention, right?
Welcome to Instagram! The social media app was cofounded by Mike Krieger and his friend Kevin Systrom.
Mike, born in 1986, grew up in São Paulo, Brazil. Even as a boy, he was fascinated by technology. When he was six years old, his father brought home a computer. Instantly intrigued, Mike wanted to know everything about computers and technology.
As the boy grew, so did his love for computers. He learned how to code well enough to teach others. In high school, Mike helped teach computer skills to adults in an after-school program.
When he was 18, Mike moved to California to study at Stanford University. He earned his degree in symbolic systems. This special program mixes coding, philosophy, and psychology. Mike learned how our minds process and act on information. In essence, he learned how we use computers.
Next, Mike went to work for Meebo, an instant-messaging company. As a software engineer, he helped design Meebo’s look and feel.
Mike met Kevin Systrom, his future Instagram partner, at a coffee shop in San Francisco. Soon, they were trading ideas. Kevin was developing an app that shared a user’s location and photos. He asked Mike to try it.
As they exchanged ideas, Mike and Kevin became good friends. They worked so well together, Kevin asked Mike to be cofounder of his new app.
“Innovation happens best when people of different backgrounds come together to solve the world’s toughest challenges.”
Fast Facts: Brazil
Country: Federative Republic of Brazil
Capital: Brasília
Population: 209 million
Official Language: Portuguese
Monetary Unit: Real
Area: 3,287,956 square miles
Other Brazilian Entrepreneurs Who Made It in America
David Neeleman
Eduardo Saverin
Gisele Bundchen
Victor Santos
Quick Start
When Instagram launched, 10,000 people downloaded the app within a few hours. By the end of the first week, the count was 200,000 users. In the beginning, Mike and Kevin did all the work themselves. As time passed, they hired a few employees to help them, but they kept the team small.
Grad to Meet You
Mike and Kevin are both Stanford University graduates. Other famous Stanford grads include Larry Page, cofounder of Google; Jawed Karim, cofounder of YouTube; and Peter Thiel, cofounder of PayPal.
Native Tongue
As a kid, Mike and his family moved frequently because of his dad’s work. He lived in Portugal, Argentina, and the United States. Mike knows English, Portuguese, and countless computer languages!
Mike was still a Brazilian citizen. Since he wasn’t working for Meebo, he needed a visa to stay in the United States. He applied for a work visa, but the approval process took forever.
Mike almost gave up. “I had moments where I was like, ‘Maybe I should just tell Kevin to forget about it and find somebody else who is easier to hire.’”
It took months, but Mike finally received his visa. By then, he and Kevin had scrapped their original idea. They decided to focus on building a photo-sharing app. They had a hunch that people wanted to distribute photos to more than just their friends and family.
Mike and Kevin were inspired by old Polaroid pictures. The soft colors and square shape of the photos provided the design idea they were going for. Mike and Kevin went to work. They built their app in just eight weeks! Instagram was ready to launch.
Within two hours of going live, Instagram had so many new users that their servers crashed. The app was an enormous hit!
Today, Instagram has more than one billion active users each month. Mike and Kevin sold Instagram to Facebook for $1 billion in 2012. Now, Instagram’s worth is estimated to be 100 times that.
In 2013, President Barack Obama mentioned Mike in a speech about immigrants who are successful and help the US economy. “Instagram was started with the help of an immigrant who studied here and stayed here,” said President Obama. “Right now in one of those classrooms there’s a student wrestling with how to turn their big idea…into a big business.”
Instagram has grown into something infinitely bigger than Mike or Kevin dreamed. Mike still loves that people can use Instagram to “travel” around the world, discovering new places and making new friends.


Singer, Actress, and Founder of Fenty Beauty
Pop star, fashion icon, and actress, Rihanna is one of the world’s most famous people. But before fame came knocking, she was just a little girl from Barbados.
Growing up in the Caribbean, Robyn Rihanna Fenty loved to sing. Born in 1988, home life wasn’t always easy for Rihanna, and music was the perfect escape. When she was 15, Rihanna competed in a beauty pageant and sang Mariah Carey’s “Hero.” She won the competition!
That same year, Rihanna formed a musical group with two classmates. When the trio learned a record producer was vacationing nearby, they were determined to meet him. The girls managed to score an audition. Rihanna’s star power was undeniable. The producer explained, “The minute Rihanna walked into the room, it was like the two other girls didn’t exist.”
Rihanna was only 16 when she moved to the United States to record a demo album. “When I left Barbados, I didn’t look back,” she said. “I wanted to do what I had to do, even if it meant moving to America.”
Rihanna’s big break came from rap superstar Jay-Z. He wanted to see her perform. Rihanna had never been more nervous, but she found courage in the moment. “I remember staring into everybody’s eyes in the room while I was singing, and at that point, I was fearless.” Jay-Z signed her to the record label on the spot. 
Rihanna’s musical career took off. She released one hit song after another. She sold millions of albums and won Grammy and MTV awards. In 2015, Rihanna became the first artist in history with 100 million song downloads. Her songs include “Umbrella,” “Disturbia,” “Diamonds,” and “We Found Love.”
“I’ve never been afraid to take risks. That’s the thing that got me out of my own way.” 
Fast Facts: Barbados
Official Name: Barbados
Capital: Bridgetown
Population: 285,400
Official Language: English
Monetary Unit: Barbados dollar
Area: 166 square miles
Giving Back
In 2012, Rihanna started the Clara Lionel Foundation, named after her grandparents. The foundation focuses on disaster relief and education, especially in the Caribbean. When Hurricane Dorian landed in the Bahamas in 2019, it was the strongest hurricane to hit the islands. The foundation donated $1 million to help the 70,000 Bahamians in need.
In the Navy
Rihanna calls her diehard fans the Navy. On social media, these fans are most commonly referred to as #RihannaNavy. Rihanna’s biggest fans say that the singer is their inspiration in all things.
Worth a Million
In 2007, Rihanna won Gillette’s Celebrity Legs of a Goddess award. Her legs were insured for a million dollars!  
Call Me Robyn
The world knows her as Rihanna. Over 70 million people follow her on Instagram as @badgalriri. But friends and family still call her by her birth name: Robyn.
In 2016, the famous singer took a left turn. Just when fans were expecting her next chart-smashing hit, Rihanna chose a different path. She debuted her clothing line Fenty x Puma at New York Fashion Week. Her new business became a huge success.
Rihanna didn’t stop there. She launched Fenty Beauty the next year. The revolutionary makeup line offers 40 different shades of foundation. Other companies only offer a handful of shades. Rihanna wanted to create cosmetics for every skin tone.
Fenty Beauty ads feature diverse models—all shapes, sizes, and skin tones are represented. The company is adored for its mission to celebrate all women. Rihanna explained, “Some are finding their shade of foundation for the first time, getting emotional at the counter. That’s something I will never get over.”
In its first month, Fenty Beauty appeared in over a thousand stores around the world. The company earned close to $100 million! In 2017, Fenty Beauty was chosen by Time Magazine as one of the year’s best inventions.
Fenty Beauty made nearly $570 million in its first year. Since the company’s launch, Rihanna has started her own fashion line in partnership with LVMH, a luxury goods group. This makes her the first black woman to lead her own luxury fashion house.
Rihanna has no plans to stop dreaming and creating the world she wants to live in. But no matter what, she will always come back to music. “Music is like, speaking in code to the world…Me the designer, me the woman who creates makeup—it all started with music. It was my first pen pal-ship to the world…All of these other things flourish on top of that foundation.”


Hamdi Ulukaya
Founder of Chobani
Have you ever tried Greek yogurt? If you have, it’s probably partly thanks to Hamdi Ulukaya.
Hamdi, who was born in 1972, grew up in a small village in Turkey, near the Kurdish mountains. His family owned a dairy farm where they raised sheep and goats. They made cheese and yogurt.
When Hamdi grew up, he studied political science at Ankara University in Turkey. As a student, Hamdi was interested in Kurdish rights. He attended political demonstrations and wrote opinions for a newspaper. One day he was arrested.
The police let him go with a warning. Hamdi believed his life would never be the same. Fearing for his safety, he left Turkey.
Although Hamdi had never planned to immigrate to the United States, his goals changed. In 1994, he arrived in New York with just $3,000 and a small suitcase. Hamdi knew little English, and he didn’t have any friends in America. Despite his disadvantages, Hamdi didn’t give up. He studied hard. In time, he attended New York’s Adelphi University, focusing on English and business.
Two years later, his father visited him. As Hamdi shopped for food his father liked, the cheese in the supermarket seemed odd to him. Having little flavor, it was very different than the cheese his family made. His father suggested that Hamdi make his own cheese to sell in the US.
Hamdi wasn’t sure if he wanted to mimic his family’s Turkish cheese. However, he lived in the perfect place for dairy farming. Hamdi’s home in Troy, New York, was close to many farms. Why not give it a try?
“It’s your employees you take care of first, not the profits.”
Fast Facts: Turkey
Official Name: Republic of Turkey
Capital: Ankara
Population: 81 million
Official Language: Turkish
Monetary Unit: Turkish lira
Area: 303,224 square miles
Other Turkish Entrepreneurs Who Made It in America

  • Ahmet Ertegun, cofounder of Atlantic Records
  • Muhar Kent, former CEO and chairman of the Coca-Cola Company
Got Yogurt?
Yogurt has been a part of Middle Eastern, European, and Indian diets for centuries, but it’s fairly new to Americans. Plain yogurt was first sold in the US in the 1940s. A decade later, the company Dannon added sugars, fruits, and flavors to make it more appetizing to Americans. By the ’70s, Americans loved yogurt, and in the ’80s, frozen yogurt became a huge craze.
“Chobani” comes from the Turkish word çoban, which means “shepherd.” You can tell Hamdi was thinking about his childhood when he named his business!
It’s All Greek
“Greek” yogurt is yogurt that has been strained so that it has a thicker quality. Without other flavors or sugars, it has a tangy, slightly sour taste.
Direct Line
When Chobani launched, the phone number listed on yogurt cups was Hamdi’s own number. He wanted to hear each comment and respond to each customer personally!

Hamdi imported some of his family’s cheeses from Turkey and sold them. In 2005, he discovered that a local yogurt and cheese factory was for sale. When Hamdi visited, he noticed more than the building. He saw the workers too. They would lose their jobs if the company shut down.
Taking out a small business loan, Hamdi bought the old factory. He kept as many of the original employees as he could. Together, they built a Greek yogurt business. Chobani was different than other yogurts on the market.
In a typical American business, the chief executive officer (CEO) makes most of the profit. Hamdi wanted Chobani to be unique. He didn’t want to focus on making money for himself. Hamdi wanted to put his employees first.
Chobani makes a point to pay its workers well. In 2016, Hamdi was able to offer employees shares of the company. He said, “The staff was always proud, but this ownership piece was missing. This is probably the smartest, most tactical thing you can do for a company.” Hamdi calls this “the new way of business.”
What happened was incredible! Chobani grew and grew—Hamdi hired hundreds of workers. Today, the amazing company is worth $2 billion. It is the top-selling Greek yogurt brand in the United States.
Chobani’s employees earn twice the minimum wage. A remarkable 30% are refugees. According to Hamdi, “My goal at Chobani was not to build just a product, but to build a culture…to build tomorrow’s company.”
Now, Hamdi is taking his powerful new ideas to the rest of the business world. In 2019, he gave a TED Talk called “The Anti-CEO Playbook.” Hamdi explained the importance of giving back to employees. “You have to lead by example,” he said. “Chobani can inspire a new way of business, a new way of work, a new way of innovation.”

Shan-Lyn Ma
Cofounder and CEO of Zola
Some little girls dream of becoming teachers, doctors, or astronauts. Shan-Lyn Ma imagined something different. She dreamed of working at a big American internet company in Silicon Valley.
Shan-Lyn was born in Singapore in 1977, but her family soon moved to Sydney, Australia. Growing up in Australia, Shan-Lyn dreamed of pursuing her education in the United States. 
“Even though I didn’t have much growing up, I was told if you work hard, then you can do anything,” says Shan-Lyn. “I dreamed about changing the world, creating something big out of nothing.”
As a girl, Shan-Lyn had a passion for technology. She idolized Jerry Yang, cofounder of Yahoo. She admired his drive and achievements. Jerry was an immigrant who had become immensely successful. Shan-Lyn hoped to work for him in the States.
Big dreams require dedication. Shan-Lyn knew how to work hard. During college, she supported herself with three jobs.
When Shan-Lyn graduated, she moved to California to earn her master’s degree in business at Stanford University. After college, she landed her dream job at Yahoo. Finally, she was working at Jerry Yang’s company!
Shan-Lyn put her usual outstanding effort into the new job. Soon, she was promoted at Yahoo. As Shan-Lyn moved on to other jobs, she took valuable lessons with her.
While Shan-Lyn worked hard to succeed, her friends were getting married seemingly every weekend! She didn’t enjoy the chore of shopping for wedding gifts. Why was it so hard to find a present?
“Always ask yourself, ‘Can I be thinking bigger?’”
Fast Facts: Australia
Official Name: Commonwealth of Australia
Capital: Canberra
Population: 25 million
Official Language: Australia does not have an official language, but English is the common tongue.
Monetary Unit: Australian dollar
Area: 2,969,976 square miles
Other Australian Entrepreneurs Who Made It in America
  • Rupert Murdoch
  • Patrick Llewellyn
Worst Waitress
One of the jobs Shan-Lyn worked during college was at a pizza restaurant. She says she was “the absolute worst pizza waitress who ever lived.” Shan-Lyn once dropped a pizza in a customer’s lap!
Partner Power
Shan-Lyn and Nobu Nakaguchi, her business partner, believe it’s important to stay connected. They spend at least 10 minutes together every day. Whether they step out of the office for a quick coffee or power lunch, they chat about new ideas, solve problems, 0r just catch up on each other’s lives.
National Pride
Zola celebrates Australia Day in honor of Shan-Lyn’s native country. The national holiday is on January 26. Locals celebrate with fireworks, family gatherings, and picnics.
Most engaged couples used a registry, a list of gifts for their wedding. Shan-Lyn thought registries were complicated and impersonal. Wasn’t there a better way to select presents?
Shan-Lyn talked to her recently married friend Nobu Nakaguchi. He agreed that wedding registries were awful and stressful to create. The two friends put their heads together and came up with something better.
Zola was born. It was an innovative wedding website offering everything a couple could need.
The website’s tools helped couples plan their wedding and provided options for guests to give cash or add to a couple’s honeymoon fund. It was a new way of giving gifts.
Shan-Lyn and Nobu certainly had a brilliant idea. After six years, Zola is the fastest-growing wedding registry business in the United States. Their company is worth $600 million.
Today, Zola has even more tools. Couples can create their own website for free, plan out wedding details, or even design their own invitations. Recently, Zola opened a retail store in New York City.
Shan-Lyn isn’t stopping. She has bigger dreams for Zola’s future. Shan-Lyn wants to help couples even after their wedding. More helpful resources for newlyweds are on the way.
Shan-Lyn has never forgotten the country she calls home. Each year, Zola celebrates Australia Day. “It’s one of my favorite days of the year!” she says.
With Zola, Shan-Lyn Ma created her own fairytale. She has built a big American internet company.  

Kids of Immigrants

Immigrants are bold and persistent. They are dreamers and creative problem-solvers. Their innovative companies continue to shape our country.
Immigrants also impact America through their children. Kids of immigrants have built some of the world’s most powerful companies. Simply put, America wouldn’t be America without the following entrepreneurs!
Steve Jobs, son of a Syrian immigrant
Cofounder of Apple
The late Steve Jobs was a visionary, a technology pioneer. He was also a once-in-a-generation entrepreneur. Steve was responsible for some of the world’s most influential products, including the iPod, iPhone, and Macintosh computer. His company is worth over a trillion dollars!
Ruth Handler, daughter of Polish immigrants  
Cofounder of Mattel
Ruth Handler started Mattel with her husband, Elliot. The couple’s most famous creation was the Barbie doll. Ruth was one of the first people to market toys to children instead of their parents. She advertised Barbie during The Mickey Mouse Club, a popular TV show for kids. Barbie became a huge success! Ruth and Elliot also created Hot Wheels, one of America’s most popular toy car brands.
Richard and Maurice “Mac” McDonald, sons of Irish immigrants
Ray Kroc, son of Czech immigrants
Cofounders of McDonald’s
In 1948, Richard and Mac McDonald were just two brothers with a hamburger restaurant. Their small company would become the largest burger chain in the world! The McDonald brothers were known for the efficient way they made food—they made their hamburgers quickly and cheaply. A man named Ray Kroc took notice. Ray bought the McDonald’s chain from Richard and Mac and turned their company into the ultra-successful franchise it is today.

Walt Disney, son of Canadian immigrants
Founder of the Walt Disney Company
Walt Disney created a business unlike any in the world. His company manufactured magic. During his life, Walt brought the world Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Disneyland, and classic animated films. Today, Walt’s company is just as magical—creating books, films, and experiences that shape popular culture.
Jeff Bezos, son of a Cuban immigrant
Founder of Amazon
Amazon started as an online bookstore. It has become the world’s most profitable web retailer. Jeff Bezos is the man behind the company’s success. Since its founding in 1994, Amazon has become its own universe! It has acquired huge companies like Whole Foods and Twitch Interactive. Amazon also creates award-winning television shows and films. Under Jeff’s direction, the company’s reach will only continue to expand. 
Estée Lauder, daughter of Czech and Hungarian immigrants
Founder of Estée Lauder
Estée Lauder was the founder of the world-renowned company that shares her name. She created her fragrance, skin care, and cosmetics brand in 1946. Today, her products are popular all over the world. The Estée Lauder Companies are worth over $60 billion.
Marc Randolph, son of an Austrian immigrant
Cofounder of Netflix
Marc Randolph began Netflix as a small video-rental business. The company has grown into a streaming service empire. It has changed entertainment culture. Now, millions of people have thousands of TV shows and films at their fingertips! The company also creates its own content, producing dozens of original shows and films.

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