statistics show us that immigrant entrepreneurs established 18% of all
Fortune 500 companies—and have founded or co-founded over a quarter of all
science and technology firms in the United States. Collectively these
businesses have generated $1.7 trillion in annual revenue, and currently employ
3.7 million workers worldwide.
Hardship and disadvantage, when paired with opportunity,
seem to be the paving stones on the road to success.
The Ukrainian-born founder and CEO of Pipette.com, a multi million dollar
scientific instrumentation company based in San Diego, California, is a case in
A quarter of a century ago, in much besieged Ukraine, Alex Spector was a
21-year-old math major whose university career had already been interrupted by
two years of compulsory service in the Russian Army. After Alex’s aunt and a
cousin emigrated to the U.S.A., his parents, both engineers, followed suit,
jumping at the opportunity to create brighter prospects for their brainy son.
Despite scant resources, they were determined, as a family, to endure whatever
they had to—and work endlessly hard—to fulfill their creative and intellectual
“It wasn’t about money,” Alex told us. “It was never about
Pipette.com distributes and calibrates a tool that is as
basic to lab scientists, in Alex’s words, as a pen is to a writer. Pipettes are
the specialized syringes that allow researchers and lab technicians to isolate
precise amounts of a given liquid and transfer it without contamination. Neither
Alex nor his parents had any idea that they’d become leading experts and
international providers of choice in this field. It just so happened that Alex
and his mother were both given jobs at a San Diego-based company called
Scientific Calibration, which was owned then by a Russophile named Peter
The 22-year-old worked there as calibration manager for what
was, even in the late 1990s, a very modest salary of $9/hour, while attending
business classes at night at California State University San Marcos. His bride,
also a recent émigré from Ukraine, found a job at Target. The family pooled
their resources, lived together and—amazingly, considering what they were
earning—managed to save enough to buy equipment from Scientific Calibration
when they and the company parted ways.
Alex assembled his equipment, mustered whatever knowledge
he’d acquired and started a company of his own, which he called Accutek.
Learning on the fly, he took courses with the GMP
(Good Manufacturing Practices) Institute. Alex’s parents had been involved,
during their work lives, in the manufacture of mechanical and electronic
devices. But Alex himself had no prior work experience to draw on in building a
business from scratch.
He was 26 and a father now. “Failure wasn’t an option,” he
told us. “I worked 24/7.”
Although possessed of abundant energy and drive, his parents
were stymied by the language barrier. (Both Ukrainian and Russian use Cyrillic rather than
the Roman alphabet.) Alex felt that it was up to him to save the day: The
entire family depended on his success as a newly fledged entrepreneur.
Alex set out to become not merely conversant but also
eloquent in English. He trained himself to listen with preternatural
attentiveness when people spoke to him—especially over the phone, in the
absence of visual cues to help him understand what was being said. This
disadvantage turned out to be essential to the way he structured his business.
He paid close attention to the needs of Scientific Calibration’s customers.
When he started his own pipette and calibration company, he focused on all the
ways in which he and his company could better serve those needs.
Pipette’s website is all about clear communication. There’s a set of
informative videos showing how to use their products. There are product
specialists on standby to answer customers’ questions and respond to their
confided to us, “I am not only speaking but also thinking with an accent. It
helps me to see things that otherwise might not be noticed by a person born and
raised in the U.S.A.” Alex says that he is constantly asking himself, “How can
I do it better?” This is the way for new immigrants, explains the affable San
Diegan who is an American citizen now. “Nothing about the immigrant experience
is easy. You have to work extra hard. You don’t take anything for granted. And
you’re hungry for success.”
Accutek was founded in 1996 as a service-only company,
calibrating liquid measuring equipment for its clients. Eventually Alex
expanded Accutek into Pipette.com, becoming a major distributor for a full
range of pipettes, including their service and calibration.
The dynamism of Pipette.com is driven by the company’s
commitment to innovation and embrace of technological advances. “Our goal,”
says the founder and CEO, “is to help lab technicians accomplish more—and to
make the world for laboratories a better place.”
Alex Spector offers the following nuggets of advice for
other online entrepreneurs hoping to serve a highly
specialized community of customers.
- Maintain an extensive portfolio of products
- Simplify the purchasing process
- Offer solution-oriented products rather than being focused on a brand
It is their vast product knowledge, excellent customer
service and what Alex calls ‘Total Pipette Management’ that has made his
company stand out among competitors in the field—and to grow a hefty 35% last
year. “We are continuing to grow at the same pace this year as well.”
His parents are still very much part of his business. (The
apple evidently didn’t fall very far from the tree!) “They are workaholics,” he
told us. “They are now well to do, and can quit any time and travel—but they
prefer to go to work almost every day.”
Flexibility, persistence and self-discipline, says Alex, are
essential for anyone coming to a new country, hoping to start a business. “As
an immigrant entrepreneur, you always imagine one thing and when you get here
it is a totally different picture.”
He treasures the honesty and transparency of the way
business is done in America. “In U.S.A.,” he told us, “you can have a business
where everybody is happy. In all ex-USSR countries, corruption is a way of
life.” Alex and his colleagues have developed special
online tools for the management, calibration and timing of Pipette’s products
and services—all of them designed to promote the clearest and most efficient
transactions between the company and its customers.
As a newcomer, it can take time to figure out the
intersection, says Alex, between what is needed and what you can offer. But
prospects are bright, he wants would-be émigrés to know. “This country provides
you the opportunity to be successful, regardless of who you are. Be zealous in
what you do, be very meticulous and consistent. And I think success will come