Immigrant Spotlight: Umakanth

Umakanth was born in a small village in Tamil Nadu, India where he developed the desire to become a research scientist and professor.   He earned his master’s degree in computer science from the Indian Institute of Technology in Bombay, and then ventured to the United States as part of a job with an Indian company.

Uma, as he is called by his friends learned while working on a series of projects here that he could work full time while studying to earn his PhD at Michigan State University on a H1B Visa.   After he completed his education he fully intended to return to India.

His exceptional project management skills were in high demand with US technical companies, but these projects required a significant amount of travel.  His priorities took a turn when he got married and started a family.

His family became his no 1 priority and excessive travel was not an option for him. He wanted to spend time with his growing family.   He took control of his schedule and his destiny when he made the decision to become an entrepreneur, something he had never envisioned himself doing.

He started Symbiosis International specializing in IT solutions, software development, and consulting.  Chris Holman from the Lansing Chamber of Commerce and SBAM (Small Business Administration Michigan) mentored him.  Uma says, “Chris Holman of the Lansing Chamber of Commerce opened up new ways of thinking to me”.

He received entrepreneurial training from the Edward Lowe Foundation that taught him how to think like a CEO.  Uma said, “This training emphasized how to work “on” the company, not “in” the company”.  Symbiosis has received several awards, one of which is the highly desired, 50 Companies to Watch in Michigan in 2005 awarded by the Edward Lowe Foundation.

The next milestone for companies in the same stage of growth as Symbiosis is to earn $50 million in revenue; however Uma’s focus has changed from the financial to the spiritual.  He has a sincere desire to give back to the community that has given him so much. He plans to focus on changing 50 million lives by assisting others with their dream to become entrepreneurs.

He, his wife, and two children love the Lansing area.  He had to relocate once for 4 years to Hillsboro, New Jersey for his career.  Uma, said, “On day one my wife and I wanted to come back to Lansing.“  They felt that Hillsboro was too busy, too crowded, unfriendly, and required much too long commute times. Four years later they had the opportunity to return here and have not looked back.  This is their home and the Lansing community is fortunate to have this family as residents.

In founding the Pure Spartan Initiative, Uma states “I would like to help three Spartans create three companies in three years”. He has partnered with MSU to identify viable candidates to participate.  He intends to assist promising entrepreneurs with consulting and even capital to stimulate their growth.  If interested you may contact him directly via email at

Uma continues to give back as a member of Rotary serving on the International Committee, giving support to projects for clean water and eliminating leprosy in Africa and India.  He is also active at Chippewa Middle School in Okemos helping to stimulate youngster’s interest in the sciences.

It is critical that Michigan continue to retain highly skilled immigrants like Uma, in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) fields.  The demand for workers in these fields in Michigan far outweighs available domestic supply.  Currently immigrants comprise 40-60% of the students earning advanced degrees in the STEM fields.   While it is appropriate to train domestic workers, this will take time and we need workers now.  It makes good financial sense to attempt to retain these individuals in our state, helping to revitalize the Michigan economy at an accelerated rate.

GTRI has programs designed to help businesses, international students, and universities bridge the gap in our workforce.   Assistance is available on applicable immigration issues, securing a job and working in Michigan, as well as, learning how to navigate cross-cultural issues that may be experienced on both sides during the hiring process.

GTRI now partners with all 15 Michigan Universities and 5 private universities to host career development conferences for international students. The conferences are designed to assist students with resume building, interviewing skills, cultural issues, and more.

Your business can receive free assistance searching for qualified international students for internships and employment whether you currently offer these opportunities or are just beginning.  Start the process by registering your company for our Global Opportunity Employer program.  We look forward to working with you to build a stronger economy and a bright future for Michigan.


Written by Rosanna Metoyer, Shifting Gears Intern

Mike Finney speaks about the need for skilled immigrants in Michigan

Check out this quick video of Mike Finney, President and CEO of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation talking about why we want skilled immigrants in Michigan.

CLICK HERE to see video

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An International Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday of the year. It is steeped in tradition, and centered on gratitude. We play games, watch football, and eat too much. But we spend some great quality time together and really focus on all of the many things in our lives for which we are grateful.

One of the things I am grateful for is that for the last three years, I have had the honor of hosting some international students in my home for our Thanksgiving holiday. The first year was through a program put together by Dan Redford  at MSU, and we had three Chinese students share our meal with us. My children and other family members very much enjoyed chatting with the students, learning some Chinese, and learning about China’s traditions. It was fun watching the students experience their first American Thanksgiving dinner as well.

The last two years I have invited my international interns to my home for Thanksgiving. And now it has become part of our Thanksgiving tradition. I am overwhelmed by the gratitude my students show for being included. Skyin even told me that she now feels she has a family in Michigan. What an awesome reward! And even though she is no longer my intern, (she’s now the Business Development Manager at Message Makers) she is coming back this year. Shasha has moved to Arizona to pursue her Ph.D. She will be greatly missed, but we will still eat her favorite Triple Chocolate Truffle cake in her absence, and arrange a Skype call so we can celebrate together in some way. This year we will also have India represented, and I look forward to hearing about India’s traditions, and of course hearing Anand’s infectious laugh.

According to Wikipedia, Canada, The Netherlands, Liberia, Norfolk Island (in Australia), Grenada, Germany, and Japan all celebrate Thanksgiving, or a holiday that is similar. Maybe I should do a Thanksgiving world tour to make a firsthand comparison? I’ll put that on my bucket list. For now, I will just look forward to Thursday and celebrating our newest tradition, an International Holiday Feast, and give thanks.