It was early 2021 when Sampei Omichi’s deportation countdown started: He had 60 days left on his student visa before he would have to leave the country. The then–21-year-old’s only option was to found a startup to qualify for an international entrepreneur parole, which allows entrepreneurs to stay in the country for over two years— assuming, of course, he could raise $250,000 in the next two months.
Omichi knew exactly the population he wanted his nonexistent business to serve. After leaving his home country of Vietnam for college in Boston at age 17, he had felt lost in the maze of immigration paperwork. So in a frantic 60 days he came up with Ellis. Its name derives from its founder’s belief that colleges serve as a modern-day Ellis Island for many immigrants. The company seeks to make life easier for international students through a suite of tools like Ellis Money and Ellis Mobile, which provide students with bank accounts and phone plans prior to their arrival in the U.S.
It was a good enough idea for Omichi to raise over $5.7 million from investors like 20VC and Balaji Srinivasan—and to secure his residency in the U.S. Here, Omichi walks us through his remarkable life path, from selling beetles in Japan to immigrating alone to the U.S.