The American Advantage
Country of Origin: Canada/Hungary
Emigrated to U.S.: 2001
Launched Terracycle: 2003
Annual revenue: $13M
Jobs created: 75
by Anne Field
Since starting Terracycle eight years ago as a 19-year old college freshman, Tom Szaky has built his innovative Trenton, N.J.-based company into a $13 million business with 75 employees. Szaky, who fled Hungary with his parents in 1982, lived most of his childhood in Toronto before moving to the U.S. to attend Princeton University. We asked him for his views on the unique entrepreneurial opportunities in the U.S.:
One of the biggest differences between the entrepreneurial environment here and elsewhere is the ability for startups to raise money. Can you tell us about your experience?
Outside of the U.S., if you’re not from a wealthy family, you have a very hard time raising money for a new business. It can be done. But it’s significantly harder. You know all those hundreds of business plan competitions at universities and other places in this country? You hardly find any anywhere else. We raised about $18 million in five financings, mostly from angel investors. Ninety-five percent of that was from the U.S. You’d think I should have been able to find money from investors in Canada. But it wasn’t available. It’s just not done. Everyone here is trying to help you win.
What about the differences in regulation and red tape?
The situation differs country by country. But, no question, there are many fewer barriers here. Take Delaware. There’s no easier place in the world to incorporate.
How do labor laws compare?
The labor laws in Europe are much more inflexible, and that makes it harder to start a business or just conduct business, in general. We have offices throughout the EU. And you can’t hire or fire easily. It means you have to be much more conservative in how you hire and fire, and that’s not a good thing for your business. You’ll be more cautious about hiring someone, because it’s more difficult to let them go. And that makes it tougher to grow a business.
Can you talk about U.S. culture and how it encourages entrepreneurship?
That’s the most important point. The culture of America is built on the idea of encouraging entrepreneurship. Many other countries still have a fundamentally different attitude. If you’re from a rich family, you stay rich. If you’re poor, you stay poor. In places like Germany or France, the people have been there for hundreds and hundreds of years. That creates an entrenched society that restricts mobility. The culture here is about upward mobility and the importance of individual achievement. After all, the country is built on the efforts of immigrant entrepreneurs. What is the American dream? That someone can come here with absolutely nothing and finish off as a multimillionaire. And that typically is facilitated through entrepreneurship.