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Latinos making inroads in Silicon Valley

Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger (r) attend the 16th Annual Webby Awards at Hammerstein Ballroom on May 21, 2012 in New York City. Krieger, a co-founder of Instagram, is from Brazil.

Say the words “immigrants” and Silicon Valley, and most people think of Indians or the Chinese. Entrepreneurs from those countries do account for about a third of the tech startups founded by immigrants. But the rest, of course, come from all over the world. One group that is starting to make inroads are Latinos. 

"Latinos have long been the largest immigrant group in the U.S. But they weren’t much of a presence in the tech sector," says Vivek Wadhwa, a fellow at Stanford Law School. But he says that’s changing. 

"I’ve seen significant growth in the Latin American population in Silicon Valley."

Part of it is that there are more Latin American role models. Mike Krieger, a co-founder of Instagram, is from Brazil.

And there are other tech entrepreneurs, like Luis Arbulu. He’s from Peru. After working at Google, he founded Hattery, a venture investment firm in San Francisco.

"A lot of us have been featured in press in Peru, in Argentina and Brazil," says Arbulu. "So when people come to Silicon Valley, they already know who were are and they seek us out that way."

One person budding entrepreneurs hit up frequently is Wences Casares. He’s the CEO of Lemon Wallet. It produces an iPhone app that essentially allows you to digitize your wallet.

Casares is from Argentina. He sold his first tech company for $750 million, when he was just 27 years old. He says that’s inspired other Latin Americans. 

Casares says, "In a way what they are thinking is, 'He’s just like me. He’s no better.' Or, 'He has no particular advantage. I can do this.'" 

And all these ambitious newcomers in Silicon Valley help breed innovation.

"The magic of Silicon Valley," Vivek Wadhwa says, "is that you have people from all over the world mentoring each other, helping each other, challenging each other."

And potentially expanding the market reach of the U.S. tech sector. After all, economies in Brazil, Mexico, and Peru are growing. 

"The people coming here from Latin America teach the natives about the opportunities in Latin America," says Wadhwa. 

And that can help U.S. businesses capitalize on increased opportunities down south.

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