Nitin Agrawal, originally from Nepal, understands better than most what it is like to come to the U.S. as a student, graduate from a school (or schools) here, and struggle to stay.
Despite doing everything right, Agrawal faced the prospect of being unable to stay in the U.S. after graduating with a business administration degree from the University of Miami, Florida, and getting a second degree from the Haas School of Business at the University of California Berkeley.
Today, he is a successful entrepreneur in San Francisco, California, CEO of Interstride, an education technology company aimed at empowering international students in their education and career journeys in the U.S.
Agrawal first came up with the idea for this venture in 2017 with his MBA classmate and friend Christian Eder who unfortunately passed away untimely in 2019.
After graduating from the University of Miami. Agrawal went to work for a New York based bank, leaving some years later to further his qualifications with a degree from Haas. That’s where he met Eder, a native of Austria.
“I did not want to work for a large employer again, and had difficulties finding start-ups to sponsor my visa. I wanted to work at a smaller company, and have more responsibilities and accountability,” Agrawal told News India Times in an interview.
He went to work for Norwegian investment fund Aker AS, living and working first in the south of Brazil and then in Oslo, Norway and Singapore before moving back to the U.S. “Ultimately, my employer was able to relocate me to the U.S. on an L-1 visa.”
Once Agrawal received his green card, he was unafraid of starting his own company, putting his idea to practice to help international students, as he always wanted to do.
“Christian and I were at a dinner one evening and we decided to start Interstride,” Agrawal recalls.
The two began by providing workshops at Berkeley and Stanford to international students who wanted to learn about the challenges and experiences of overcoming immigration obstacles.
“It’s difficult for universities to understand the struggles faced by international students. Most parents have invested their life savings on their child’s international education only to be sent back after their education,” Agrawal said.
“The whole idea of studying in a foreign country is to gain some sort of professional experience and build career skills to make all the money spent worthwhile. But, unfortunately, this is not an option for most international students. This is what really propelled us to go for it.”
Students have high hopes and dreams when they come to study in this country.
“On the admission side of things, whether it’s top university or any other program for that matter, students are over-promised about the great opportunities they will have access to once they graduate,” Agrawal noted.
But, once the student lands in the U.S. and looks for jobs, student services have a difficult time placing them because of their unique circumstances.
“Most career services administrators are not immigration experts, and then international student services that provide immigration advice on OPT (Optional Practical Training), CPT (Curricular Practical Training) and H-1B information are not career experts,” either, he said.
“There’s a huge gap there because students don’t know who to contact and reach out to. That’s where we build the bridge: we provide immigration advice. We give them insight on employers that hire international, along with contacts that they can reach out to for job opportunities,” he said.
Now his company is working with alumni services to bring alumni to the portal as well. “We’re starting a marketplace where we can connect international students to immigration lawyers,” said Agrawal.
Agrawal’ advice to international students is to start their job search process early in their educational journey if they want to stay on and work. Also, students need to have back up options if Plan A of finding an H-1B sponsor does not work.
His company is starting an immigration marketplace soon which will provide curated and customized advice to students.
Interstride’s technology is currently assisting students at Harvard, the University of Chicago, University of Southern California, Arizona State University, the University of Georgia, University of Texas in Austin, and more than 120 other schools.
The company now has more than 85 university partners and works with more than 130 programs — including MBA programs at leading B-schools like Michigan Ross, UCLA Anderson, USC Marshall, Duke Fuqua, and Texas-Austin McCombs.
If international students are interested in using Interstride resources, they have to request their career services office for access.