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Silicon Valley Start-Ups Fueled by Immigrants


The area in northern California between San Francisco and San Jose is known as Silicon Valley.

Some of the world’s most famous technology companies have headquarters there. Apple and Facebook are two big ones.

Besides established companies, there are many small companies trying to get started. These businesses are known as start-ups.

Some of the people behind the start-ups are immigrants from countries like Sri Lanka, Taiwan and China.

One of those start-ups is called Cloud of Goods. It is an online business that links local residents who have things to rent with tourists who need those things. People who need car seats, strollers, bicycles or camping equipment can use the service to rent these goods.

Punsri Abeywickrema is the founder of Cloud of Goods. He is from Sri Lanka. He says he has based his business on the fact that we all buy goods that we do not use all the time. When they are not being used, they can be rented to someone else.

“The idea was, you know, there's a lot of resources that we all (have) accumulated in our homes, in our garages, in our closets, that (are) sitting idle, and how can we use this to make it better for everyone?”

The company just opened for business. Workers at the company recently celebrated its first $500 of income with a drink of sparkling wine.

A champagne celebration marked the first $500 in revenue at Cloud of Goods, a website that links San Francisco-area residents to tourists who need to rent household items that were too bulky to bring on their journey. (M. O'Sullivan/VOA)

A champagne celebration marked the first $500 in revenue at Cloud of Goods, a website that links San Francisco-area residents to tourists who need to rent household items that were too bulky to bring on their journey. (M. O'Sullivan/VOA)

There are computer programmers working on Cloud of Goods’ website in Sri Lanka. But in California, there are 10 unpaid employees trying to build the company.

Stacy Tran is part of the start-up. She says the company is trying to start small and then expand. “Similar to how Amazon did it with books,” she says.

Gee Chuang founded Listia with James Fong. They are Chinese-Americans who met at Cornell University in the state of New York. Listia is an online marketplace where people can trade in used items for credit. Then they can use the credit to “buy” other items, like collectible coins, video games or cell phones.

Listia has been in business since 2009 and has 9 million users.

The founders overcame some problems two years ago. The U.S. Department of Labor investigated the business. The founders were required to pay wages to the website moderators who should have been considered employees. Now, 18 people work at their office in Santa Clara, California.

Chuang says it is very important to hire “people that know more than you” to start a successful business.

Neal Gorenflo is a business analyst for a site called Shareable that tracks what is called the sharing economy. He says it is hard for businesses like Listia and Cloud of Goods to find out what it takes to be successful.

But that is not because there are not enough smart and motivated people looking to work in new businesses. Abeywickrema says Silicon Valley provides the perfect mix of people with skills and opportunities.

“All that, you know, different expertise, different skill sets, different talents mix here together, and that is the right recipe for a, you know, successful company.”

I’m Christopher Jones-Cruise.

VOA Correspondent Mike O’Sullivan reported this story. Dan Friedell adapted it for Learning English. Mario Ritter was the editor.

What qualities would you bring to Silicon Valley? We want to know. Write to us in the Comments Section or on our Facebook page.

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Words in This Story

talent – n. a special ability that allows someone to do something well

moderator – n. someone who leads a discussion in a group and tells each person when to speak; someone who moderates a meeting or discussion

overcome – v. to successfully deal with or gain control of (something difficult)

resource– n. a place or thing that provides something useful

accumulate – v. to gather or acquire (something) gradually as time passes

idle – adj. not working, active, or being used

founder – n. a person who creates or establishes something that is meant to last for a long time (such as a business or school); a person who founds something

rent – v. to pay money in return for being able to use (something that belongs to someone else)

tourist – n. a person who travels to a place for pleasure

start-up – n. a new business

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