Monday, November 1, 2021, 1 – 2:30pm
Immigration has long been—and remains—a key driver of American innovation. From telephone inventor Alexander Graham Bell (Scotland) to Zoom founder Eric Yuan (China), many of our most celebrated inventors and entrepreneurs were born elsewhere before developing successful technologies in the United States. In this three-day webinar series, we will explore the history, impact, and contemporary experiences of foreign-born inventors. Our speakers—including historians, economists, policymakers, and immigrant inventors—will examine the factors that have made the United States an attractive destination for aspiring inventors and the attitudes and mindsets that have driven their success. We will also consider how foreign-born inventors have been central to historic and contemporary policy debates concerning immigration, innovation, American competitiveness, and national security.
The online symposium will convene daily from 1:00-2:30pm ET. Each 90-minute session will begin with a moderator’s introduction, followed by two 20-minute presentations and audience Q&A.
Schedule by day:
Monday 1 November 2021, 1:00-2:30pm ET
Session 1: HISTORY: IMMIGRANT INNOVATION in the UNITED STATES
Historically, the United States has generally embraced innovation as a positive social good. However, American attitudes toward immigrants have varied widely over time, from open arms to open hostility. How have changing patterns of immigration influenced American innovation? This session will explore the various historical “push” factors (e.g., war, poverty, political instability) that have inspired immigrant inventors to leave their home countries, alongside “pull” factors (e.g., education, religious freedom, economic opportunity, family) that have attracted them to the United States. Speakers will identify key historical events and policies that have promoted and hindered the entry and work of foreign-born inventors in the United States, while documenting their contributions to the economy. Overall, this session will explore the history, scope, and impact of immigrant innovation in the United States.
- Petra Moser, Professor of Economics, Stern School of Business, New York University
- William R. Kerr, Professor, Entrepreneurial Management, Harvard Business School
- Moderator: Arthur Daemmrich, Director, Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation, National Museum of American History
Tuesday 2 November 2021, 1:00-2:30pm ET
Session 2: LIVED EXPERIENCES: IMMIGRANT INVENTORS at WORK
Researchers have suggested that immigrants account for 16% of all US inventors and 27.5% of all US entrepreneurs, despite representing only 13.7% of the US population. Immigrants, by definition, are willing to take risks and persistently navigate uncertainty to improve their lives. Does that mindset make immigrants naturally more inventive and entrepreneurial? This session will examine the lived experiences of transnational and immigrant inventors—in their birth countries and in the United States—to understand what makes them tick. Our speakers will explore the challenges immigrant inventors face—including xenophobia, labor market discrimination, access to capital—and the advantages they bring to the table—including cosmopolitan cross-cultural experience, multilingualism, and exposure to different customer needs. Overall, this session will trace how the immigrant experience inspires technological and entrepreneurial creativity.
- Ashok Gadgil, Professor, Civil & Environmental Engineering, Univ. of California, Berkeley
- Ayah Bdeir, inventor, entrepreneur, and activist; founder of littleBits and Daleel Thawra
- Bonus Presentation re: Immigrant Inventor collections and exhibitions at NMAH, by Joyce Bedi, Senior Historian, Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation, National Museum of American History
- Moderator: Monica M. Smith, Head of Exhibitions and Interpretation, Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation, National Museum of American History
Wednesday 3 November 2021, 1:00-2:30pm ET
Session 3: CURRENT DEBATES, INNOVATION, LAW and POLICY
The past decade has witnessed ferocious political and cultural debates about border security, undocumented “dreamers,” sanctuary cities, “genius” visas, refugee resettlement, and immigrant bans from various countries. How do immigrant inventors and entrepreneurs factor into these broader debates? This session will describe how migrants and refugees impact patenting, employment, and other measures of innovation. It will also evaluate the history and current state of American law and policy concerning foreign-born students, highly-skilled workers, intellectual property, economic competitiveness, and national security. Speakers will describe current and proposed immigration policies in historical context, evaluate their pros and cons, and forecast their anticipated impacts. Overall, this session will examine the present conditions and future prospects for immigrant innovators in the United States.
- Ruth Wasem, Professor of Public Policy Practice, University of Texas at Austin
- Dany Bahar, Associate Professor of Practice, Watson Institute for International & Public Affairs, Brown University
- Moderator: Margaret Salazar-Porzio, Curator of Latinx History and Culture, Division of Cultural and Community Life, National Museum of American History
Accessibility: The National Museum of American History welcomes visitors of all ages and abilities. CART captioning will be available for this online program. Additional accommodations are available upon request; please email email@example.com.
Event Location: Online
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