Sonny Vu arrived in the U.S. in 1979 as a Vietnamese immigrant seeking political asylum. He learned his first English words watching episodes of Star Trek, which sparked an interest in engineering that later led to him starting multiple tech companies.
“It was really at MIT where I caught the entrepreneurial bug,” Vu recalled at a dinner in San Francisco earlier this month organized by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “They had a business plan competition, I said why not, and the rest is history.”
Vu’s latest company, Misfit Wearables, a maker of wearable sensor devices, has attracted more than $8 million in venture capital funding. And its flagship product, an activity tracker called the Shine, drew more than 8,000 pre-orders on Indiegogo earlier this year.
But many of Vu’s former classmates at MIT who were foreigners studying abroad were not as lucky. A number of them were forced to leave the country after graduation because they couldn’t secure a visa.
“It seems utterly ridiculous to me,” Vu said of the “brilliant minds” who left the U.S. because of visa issues. “Our average IQ just dropped because of legislation.”
Vu joins a chorus of CEOs in the technology sector calling for immigration reform. Fwd.us, Mark Zuckerberg’s political advocacy group, gained the support of LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman and Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer in its push to promote legislation that would increase the flow of highly skilled foreign workers in science and technology.
The support came on the heels of research by the Kauffman Foundation which found that creating a new kind of visa for foreign entrepreneurs could lead to between 500,000 and 1.6 million new jobs within 10 years.
Asked whether he expects positive changes to the immigration system, Vu replied “I don’t know — I’m always an optimist.”
Vu was part of a panel of experts that joined Tour Guides Nate and Joe for dinner at the San Francisco stop of the Free Enterprise Tour. To see more of their discussion–and to see someone who wears Google Glass every day–check out the video below.