Swedish Schumpeter Lecturer 2020: William Kerr

What does entrepreneurship among migrants look like in the United States and in other countries? Are migrants more entrepreneurial? These issues where discussed at this year’s Swedish Schumpeter Lecture, held by Harvard professor William Kerr and arranged as a webinar on 28 October.

In Kerr’s latest book The Gift of Global Talent: How Migration Shapes Business, Economy & Society (2018) he explores the global race for talent and how countries and businesses compete for high-skilled migrants. The book reveals that immigration has changed American innovation, reshaped the economy through the emergence of talent clusters and affected society as a whole.

Kerr began the webinar by showing that a number of major cities in the United States have immigrant entrepreneurs who far exceed their numbers relative to the population. What could be the cause, he asked himself rhetorically. He continued by stating the personality traits entrepreneurs generally possess. He highlighted their risk tolerance and that they often believe they have control over their own destiny.

Opportunities are not evenly distributed around the world, which means that many risk-tolerant individuals who want to take control of their lives emigrate to new countries.

Nevertheless, he could not rule out that some are driven to entrepreneurship due to lack of other opportunities in their new country, so-called necessity-based entrepreneurship. Discrimination of various kinds can also play a role here.

Immigration has changed American innovation. In 1975, Indian and Chinese immigrants in the San Francisco area was behind one of 220 U.S. patents. In 2017, it was one in twelve.

Kerr highlighted the importance of easy access to visas for people intending to start businesses in a new country as an important policy area.

The United States has many immigrants starting businesses despite their visa rules, not because of them, Kerr concluded.


William Kerr
professor Harvard Business School
Mats Hammarstedt
professor Linné University and Research Institute for Industrial Economics
Johan Eklund
professor and Managing Director Swedish Entrepreneurship Forum (moderator)