Beyond Borders: Immigrant Leaders Reimagining New York’s Startup Scene
Founders and operators whose inspiring journeys embody what makes this city and its startup community remarkable.
New York City has always been home to a vibrant, diverse entrepreneurial ecosystem. As we commemorate Independence Day, the team here at Primary set out to also celebrate the city’s remarkable startup leaders who hail from all corners of the world. As with our previous lists spotlighting NYC’s leaders in infrastructure, fintech, proptech, and all-around operators, this is a non-exhaustive nod to friends and those we admire across all stages of company growth.
In this list, we proudly present New York entrepreneurs and operators whose inspiring journeys embody what makes this city and its startup community remarkable. These individuals, immigrants who have found their home in the bustle of New York, have crafted ideas spanning across education, software, social platforms, DTC brands and fashions, dating apps, and even pizza.
Join us in celebrating their remarkable achievements and pay homage to the unwavering spirit of diversity, inclusion, and innovation that has become synonymous with New York City this Independence Day. You can join us at Beyond Borders: Celebrating the American Mosaic as we celebrate the invaluable contributions of immigrants in NY's vibrant startup ecosystem.
Ilir Sela, Founder and CEO of Slice
llir Sela immigrated to the U.S. from former Yugoslavia as a child. In 2015, he founded Slice in response to the challenges he saw his family’s pizzerias tackle growing up. To solve those problems, he set out to unite pizza shops with the tools and economies of scale that power larger pizza chains. Slice utilizes its innovative tech platform to garner data-driven insights to help independent pizzerias better serve their customers and build thriving local businesses. Today, Slice empowers pizzerias in over 3,000 cities in all 50 states, forming the nation’s largest community of independent pizzerias. Prior to founding Slice, Ilir started Nerd Force, an IT company. Ilir immigrated to the U.S. from former Yugoslovia at 10 years old.
Kat Garcia, Founder and CoCEO of Ground
Kat is Cofounder and CoCEO at Ground, on a mission to reinvent the way startups build and grow. Ground offers a playground breaking company siloes between product, marketing, and finance, so anyone can easily access information and make decisions in minutes. Prior to starting Ground, Kat was at BCG Digital Ventures, the incubation arm of the Boston Consulting Group, where she helped found, build and scale startups alongside some of the world’s most influential companies. She was the Head of Growth and supported some of the biggest names in the Fortune 100, such as, AMEX, UBS, and Cisco, among many others. Kat started her career at the tender age of 14, spending over a decade working in the entertainment industry, where she transcended both French and English worlds as an actress and independent recording artist. Kat is a first-generation Canadian with Colombian roots, living and operating Ground out of New York.
Allon Bloch, Cofounder and CEO of K Health
Allon Bloch is the Cofounder and CEO of K Health, an AI-powered digital primary care company. K provides access to high-quality, affordable healthcare. In 2022, K Health was named on Fast Company’s World’s Most Innovative Companies list and the 2021 CNBC Disruptor 50 list. K Health is an online platform that licenses data from top health systems such as Mayo and Maccabi and has built a 24X7 medical services primary care offering across the US. It has seen millions of patients since 2019. Allon previously served as CoCEO of the website platform Wix (Nasdaq: WIX) and was also the Cofounder and CEO of Vroom (Nasdaq: VRM), a leading online U.S. car retailer. Allon is a first-generation immigrant from Israel, moving to the U.S. in his twenties.
Andrew Yeung, Tech Community Builder, Event Producer and Global Product Lead at Google
Andrew Yeung creates unique experiences to bring together tech’s most extraordinary tech leaders, change-makers, and builders. In the last 2 years, he’s produced over 100 events for over 10,000 founders, operators, and investors in 6 cities that were featured in Bloomberg, Fortune Magazine, This Week in Startups, and Morning Brew. After moving to New York City during the pandemic, he built his network from scratch by hosting small 8-person dinners which evolved into 2,000+ person “tech parties” - helping people make friends, fundraise, hire talent, and so forth. Today, Andrew works at Google, produces tech events, runs a deal-flow program and talent collective, and writes his newsletter for 21,000+ readers. Andrew was born in Hong Kong, and lived there, Taiwan, Shanghai, and Canada, before moving to the U.S. in 2020.
Humberto Pacheco, Cofounder and CEO of Naya Homes
Humberto Pacheco is the Cofounder and CEO of Naya Homes, a premium, end-to-end property management platform reimagining the vacation and short-term rental experience for homeowners in Latin America. They leverage data-fueled revenue management, technology, and hospitality expertise to maximize yields for homeowners and real estate investors. Humberto was born in Costa Rica, and lived in Switzerland, Colombia, and Mexico before arriving in New York a few years ago. Before Naya Homes, Humberto was a Regional General Manager at CloudKitchens, where he led the company’s virtual kitchen business in Latin America. Humberto was also a Regional General Manager at Uber, where he launched ride-hailing operations in Costa Rica, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Ecuador and led the Andean, Central American, and Caribbean Region.
Nabeel Alamgir, Founder of Lunchbox
Raised in Bangladesh and Kuwait, Nabeel Alamgir moved to Queens as a teenager and started his career as a busboy at the original Bareburger restaurant. He spent a decade there working his way from busboy to chief marketing officer. Inspired by his firsthand experiences from the front to the back of the restaurant, Nabeel launched Lunchbox Technologies, the modern ordering system for restaurants to grow their revenue, in 2019. Lunchbox now enables restaurant chains to take control of their digital growth strategy through its suite of products specializing in app and web ordering, guest loyalty, marketing, and order aggregation to increase sales and strengthen guest engagement. Helping restaurants across the country, including all major NYC chains like: 16 handles, Sticky's, Maman, Fuku, Mighty Quinn's, among others.
Haytham Elhawary, Cofounder of Kinetic
Haytham Elhawary founded Kinetic to reduce workplace injuries for front-line workers. Haytham’s experience sits at the intersection of healthcare, technology, and insurance, and he understood the impact of workplace injuries on individuals and families at an early age. Haytham was born in the UK to parents from Egypt and Colombia; and immigrated to New York 12 years ago. During his childhood in London, his mother worked as an elderly care nurse – a job that strained her back and her family as she underwent several work-related injuries. Haytham’s childhood experience and professional background in robotics and artificial intelligence inspired him to develop AI-powered wearables that aim to detect and prevent workplace injuries.
Anna Bao, Founder of Kleido
Anna Bao is the founder of Kleido, a career advice marketplace for students to get career insights from professionals about tomorrow's job insight, today. As a first-generation immigrant and student, Anna is passionate about helping students from all backgrounds achieve their career goals. She believes that everyone should have access to the knowledge and networks necessary to succeed in their chosen field. Prior to founding Kleido, Anna worked for Cornell Tech, Techstars and Corning and is a graduate of Interdisciplinary Studies at Cornell University. Before building her career in the New York startup ecosystem, Anna immigrated to the U.S. from China at 8 years old.
Snigdha Sur, Founder & CEO of Juggernaut
Snigdha is the founder & CEO of The Juggernaut, a consumer subscription company and global community dedicated to telling powerful South Asian stories. She worked at McKinsey New York, on launch operations and strategy for Reese Witherspoon's Hello Sunshine while at Otter Media, and has consulted for BuzzFeed, Quartz, and Scroll.in. The Juggernaut reaches 10 million people a week, has over 315,000 followers on Instagram, and counts the likes of Padma Lakshmi, Hari Kondabolu, and Poorna Jagannathan among its subscribers. Snigdha is a graduate of Yale University in Economics and South Asian Studies and got her MBA at Harvard. She moved to the U.S. from India when she was 3, and was also the NYC Spelling Bee Champion, going to nationals — twice!
Vivien Zhang, Founder of Solaire
Originally from Shanghai, educated in New Zealand and the U.K., Vivien is a fashion executive turned tech startup founder. With Solaire, Vivien introduced the concept of a consumer wallet as the customer's on-chain identity for storytelling and clienteling. Solaire's cutting-edge technology empowers brands to capture the lifetime value of both the customers and products by seamlessly integrating NFTs and immersive physical experiences in a user-friendly manner. Solaire's client base extends across a diverse spectrum, encompassing fashion, sports, entertainment, and art. Before her entrepreneurial pursuit with Solaire, Vivien amassed extensive experience in the luxury retail sector, having worked with renowned brands such as Tiffany & Co. and Harry Winston. She also served as the Head of Merchandising at MARLI New York, scaling the business 10X over two years during Covid, solidifying her expertise in the industry.
Julia L. Xu, Founder and CEO of USourced
Julia Xu is an entrepreneur with deep experience in the e-commerce and supply chain industry. After immigrating from China to study at Brown University, Julia is now the Founder & CEO of USourced, a company using AI to automate bespoke product sourcing from manufacturers globally. She previously served as the Chief of Staff of Alibaba North America, where she led global operations and strategy for the B2B product sourcing marketplace. Before her tenure at Alibaba, Julia played a vital role in constructing the global financial model for Disney+ and successfully led the launch of the platform.
Regina Jaslow, Cofounder & CEO of Innocuous AI
Regina Jaslow is currently building Innocuous AI, a generative AI platform for enterprises to boost productivity and enhance customer experiences. With a background in bootstrapped and VC-backed startups, Regina brings valuable expertise in driving profit and sales growth. She has served previously as Chief Revenue Officer overseeing sales, marketing, and customer success at a B2B SaaS tech startup where she tripled their market share within 2 years, which enabled its successful exit. She has also seen another successful exit from her first venture where she was Cofounder and Chief Marketing Officer, and ran that business for over 15 years. Her passion lies in leveraging artificial intelligence to empower businesses, optimize operations, and deliver exceptional customer experiences. Regina came to the U.S. from Singapore as an international student at the Wharton School of The University of Pennsylvania before getting married to her husband she met at Penn, and ultimately building her AI tech startup in New York.
Yekaterina (Katya) Chernyak, Cofounder and CEO of Fast-Forward (FFWD) Dating
Yekaterina is the Cofounder and CEO of Fast-Forward (FFWD) Dating, a revolutionary dating app transforming the way users connect with potential matches online. She is also a first-generation immigrant from Belarus, moving to the U.S. as a teenager. With a relentless focus on authenticity, FFWD sets itself apart by utilizing in-app video profiles to showcase users' genuine personalities, going beyond static photos and text. Prior to embarking on her entrepreneurial path, Yekaterina amassed nearly 15 years of experience as a corporate attorney at a renowned international law firm. This background equipped her with a deep understanding of the complexities of human interactions, which inspired her to create a platform that prioritizes transparency and meaningful connections. Motivated by her personal frustrations with online dating, Yekaterina dedicated months of tireless effort to bring FFWD to life. Her unwavering determination and passion for empowering individuals to find genuine connections have been the driving force behind the app's design and launch.
Jane Kate Wong, Cofounder of NOON
Jane Kate Wong is the Cofounder and Chief Creative Officer at NOON, an Asian, female-founded wellness startup at the forefront of cognitive well-being through the power of plants. She cofounded the company in 2020 and launched in late 2022, alongside Cherie Lui and Christine Wong, after recognizing that burnout had become all too familiar with everyone around them. NOON is re-imaginging the future apothecary, blending Eastern plant wisdom with cutting-edge neuroscience to help people tap their full potential through their greatest asset: the mind. First-generation Canadian, Jane moved to the U.S. 8 years ago to start building.
Nick Stafford, CEO of Ollie
Nick loves launching and scaling disruptive consumer brands. His entrepreneurial journey began in the UK, where he built and sold one of the UK’s first online travel companies. After completing his MBA at IMD in Switzerland, Nick’s passion for building high-growth businesses led him to the US. Once there, he oversaw two travel businesses, including one at LivingSocial, before becoming COO of mattress industry disruptor and B-Corp Leesa Sleep. Today, Nick is the CEO of Ollie, a purpose-driven, direct-to-consumer pet brand disrupting the $120bn pet industry with its popular, personalized fresh food subscription service. Direct to homes across the US, Ollie delivers the highest quality, whole ingredient food that pups love!
Nick Ling, Founder of Pattern Brands
Nick Ling is the Cofounder and CEO of Pattern Brands, a family of brands with the shared mission of enjoying daily life. Since its launch in 2019, Pattern has developed and brought to market two thoughtfully-made and design-forward home-centric brands: Open Spaces and Equal Parts, and it has acquired GIR, Letterfolk, Poketo, YIELD, and Onsen. In 2022, Pattern raised $25 million in Series B funding and has grown to include 6 businesses since its founding in 2019. The team behind Pattern Brands formerly founded Gin Lane, a brand agency that built dozens of direct-to-consumer brands and digital experiences across industries for over a decade. Before living in New York, Nick immigrated from the UK to go to Business School. He stayed in the US both to run Gin Lane and Pattern Brands and to marry his (American) wife, Jordan.
Marc Escapa, Cofounder and CoCEO of Fuse Finance
Marc Escapa is the Cofounder and CoCEO of Fuse Finance, a next-gen loan origination system (LOS) that simplifies lending for financial institutions through self-serve customization, low-code API builders, and personalized agent portals. Together with his Cofounder Andres Klaric, they are helping lenders to streamline the loan origination process. Marc immigrated from Spain when he was 24 before building in New York.
Dario Galbiati Alborghetti, Founder and CEO of Showday
Dario Galbiati Alborghetti is the Founder and CEO of Showday, an all-in-one video commerce platform for Shopify brands. Showday works with fast-growing merchants to boost conversion using interactive, shoppable videos. Showday powers over 1,000 Shopify brands like Lashify, Veronica Beard, Harney & Sons, Rasa, Michael Todd Beauty, RMS, and more. Dario is also the Founder & CEO of Hundred, and was a founding team member at Atlantic Food Labs, where he also served as Managing Director. Dario left Italy when he was 20; he spent 10 years in Germany before immigrating to the U.S. to begin building in New York.
Ozan Yerli, Founder and CEO of Connected2.me
Ozan is the CEO of Connected2.me, a digital platform that allows people to chat anonymously with friends and strangers. The platform has a web and mobile version, allowing users to access its features whenever they want. It first launched in Turkey, was released internationally after gaining tons of traction, and now boasts millions of users worldwide.
You can join us in celebrating their remarkable achievements and pay homage to the unwavering spirit of diversity, inclusion, and innovation at Beyond Borders: Celebrating the American Mosaic. RSVP today to join us as we celebrate the invaluable contributions of immigrants in NY's vibrant startup ecosystem.