Semyon Dukach believes supporting immigrants is a moral imperative.
That’s not a knee-jerk response to the policies and rhetoric of President Donald Trump, but a long-held belief that stems from Dukach’s own experience of escaping the Soviet Union with his family in 1979 to find a better life in the United States.
Now, after leading the Techstars Boston startup accelerator with fellow immigrant entrepreneur Eveline Butchaskiy for three years, the two plan to back immigrant founders with a new Boston-based venture capital firm called One Way Ventures.
“We really believe that it’s a fundamental human right to be able to move to another country and build a business.”
“We really believe that it’s a fundamental human right to be able to move to another country and build a business and be entrepreneurial and free,” Dukach, who stepped down from Techstars in May, told BostInno.
With the Trump administration moving to limit immigrants coming into the U.S., immigration has become a top issue for the startup community. One of the reasons is that immigrants have had a large impact on successful businesses in the U.S. According to information compiled by MassTLC, 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or their children. Immigrant founders also account for more than half of U.S. startups with a valuation of at least $1 billion.
Dukach said he had been thinking about launching a VC firm for the last couple of years — he has been an angel investor for the last 20 years, having made over 100 investments — but the idea for One Way only came about in February when local angel investor Joe Caruso suggested he combine his passion for supporting immigrants with his ambition to start a firm.
Beyond leading Techstars and making angel investments in startups, Dukach and Buchatskiy both have experience operating companies. With a background in computer science, Dukach had co-founded several companies, including Vert and Fast Engines, and he also made a name for himself as a key member of the MIT Blackjack Team in the 1990s. Buchatskiy, who studied engineering, launched and served as managing partner for the Eastlabs startup accelerator in Ukraine. She also served as CEO of media company Ekonomika and cleantech company APCT.
Dukach was unable to discuss any details of One Way’s first fund — no filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission have been made — but he said it would be similar to how other venture funds work.
“It’s more a question of identity and influence and formative experience.”
While One Way aims to back immigrant founders, it’s not just limited to first-generation immigrants, meaning that children of immigrants will also be eligible to receive investments. What’s most important, Dukach said, is that the immigration experience helped define who they are.
“It’s more a question of identity and influence and formative experience,” Dukach said, adding that his firm will broadly focus on tech startups, both in the consumer and enterprise space.
Dukach said the act of immigrating itself can be an entrepreneurial experience. When he moved to the U.S. with his sister and parents, Dukach said his family knew nothing about the outside world because of Soviet Union propaganda — “it was utter confusion” — and they had very little money. But after living in a free apartment in Newark, N.J., where Dukach said “some Dumpster diving was involved,” his father ended up getting an engineering job at an oil company in Houston, Texas, despite speaking very little English.
Immigrant entrepreneurs can have huge disadvantages not just because of language and cultural barriers, Dukach said, but also because they may enter industries where incumbents hold a dominant position. However, time and time again, he said, they have proven to overcome these obstacles and build successful businesses.
“They don’t give up. It’s a one-way ticket,” Dukach said. “That’s why we’re calling it One Way Ventures.”