The co-working space in south Overland Park where Neelima Parasker has set up shop includes the amenities young, energetic and collaborative workers want: a coffee bar, stadium-like seating with oversized comfy chairs, offices next to windows and a ping-pong table where two 20-somethings are joking around.
"Right now, this is my office and then my team starts here. The senior staff sits here," says Parasker, president and CEO of SnapIT Solutions. Parasker started the company in May 2016, and moved into this collaborative space in 2017.
When Parasker started her own business, she joined thousands of other immigrants in Kansas City who have taken the risk of becoming an entrepreneur.
Taking a 'leap of faith'
Parasker grew up in India. She earned a bachelors degree in mechanical engineering from Osmania University in Hyderabad. Then, she started looking into getting a master's degree in the United States. At first, she says, her parents were skeptical.
"I sat down with them," she recalls. "They’re like, 'I don’t know, you should be getting married and then go, you know, just to make sure you’re safe.' I’m like, 'That’s exactly why I don’t want to be (laughs). I want to get out and see what I can do all by myself. And then if marriage happens, marriage happens.'"
In 1988, with little family in the U.S., Parasker took what she describes as a "leap of faith." She moved to Oklahoma to start work at Oklahoma City University on a master's in computer science. A first job offer soon followed, at a dot-com in California. Then she re-located to the Kansas City area to work for Sprint, and, a few years later, for IBM.
"(I) started my IT career as a developer," she says. "I wore multiple hats, became a designer, analyst, architect."
Innovating ways to meet demand
In 2016, after nearly two decades working for other companies, Parasker knew she was ready to start her own: SnapIT Solutions.
"SnapIT Solutions is a technology solutions company providing software solutions, including training and web-based solutions for small and medium (sized) companies," she describes.
Think solutions such as creating web apps or websites for clients. And Parasker says SnapIT is making a profit; she just hired three new staffers and is looking to expand. But finding IT workers for her growing business is a challenge.
An H-1 B visa allows American companies to hire high-skilled immigrants such as those in the tech industry. But these visas are in high demand, and the chance of getting one is about 30 percent — and increasingly difficult in the current political climate.
"Getting resources here on United States in IT is first, expensive. Second, it is difficult to retain," Parasker says. "Having loyalty for a smaller company like mine is difficult to retain."
So a segment of Parasker's company focuses on IT training for college students who are interested in tech careers. It's growing her own talent, she says.
"I want these kids in Missouri, Kansas City area, to be able to serve maybe a client in Europe, maybe in South America," she says. "I don’t know. Imagine the possibilities!"
Taking a risk
In the Kansas City area, it's estimated there are about 7,000 immigrant entrepreneurs. According to Kauffman Foundation research, immigrants are twice as likely as native-born Americans to start new businesses. That doesn't surprise Parasker.
"I think we are already looking at people who are entrepreneurs by heart," she says. "I mean, they are already doing things that are out of their comfort zone, have not been in their area. And taking a huge risk."
Parasker says she’s been happy to hear from younger cousins — some in the U.S., some in India — that she's inspired them.
"Especially girls tell me, 'I really am doing what I’m doing because I see you as a role model.' So that’s great," she says. "I also remind them that your role model should be yourself first. You should be your hero."
Her advice for other budding entrepreneurs: It's difficult, but it's do-able. Always make sure you have support.
"So learn to delegate. Know that it is a hard road, there's no doubt. But (it's) so satisfying and rewarding," she says. "I don't think I would do anything else."
This story is part of our new series “Taking a Risk” in which we’ll explore the stories of immigrant entrepreneurs in Kansas City – and the challenges of starting something new.
Laura Spencer is an arts reporter at KCUR 89.3. You can reach her on Twitter @lauraspencer.