Leonardo Lujan believes that business can and should be used as a force of positive change in society. He is living out this vision by combining his Harvard MBA, mechanical engineering background, and personal life experiences to lower the cost of living for low-income people in numerous countries.
We got to be a small part of Leonardo's story by helping him acquire legal work authorization for his U.S. company. After getting Leonardo's O-1A visa petition and EB-2 NIW green card petition approved by the U.S. government, we chatted with him to learn more about his story.
A Vision for Business Shaped by Hardship
We asked Leonardo about what led him to his current role (Chief Operating Officer) at Nilus, a U.S. startup. Looking back, Leonardo shared: "the main reason I acquired an entrepreneurial mindset is because of my personal belief that business can and should be used to impact society positively."
"I grew up in Argentina, a country that has suffered many ups and downs and many economic crises," Leondardo told us. "I saw firsthand how Argentinian society—even my family—was affected. That made me grow up with the idea that a business could and must be a solution to prevent those outcomes by bringing in development opportunities."
As a young adult, Leonardo studied industrial engineering in Buenos Aires. After graduating, he began working as an Industrial Project Analyst at one of Argentina's only multinational companies. He stayed at that company for four and a half years in various positions throughout the company, ending in a product marketing role.
"In those four and a half years, I explored engineering and learned how to solve problems," Leonardo said. He left his job and home country in 2018 to complete his MBA at Harvard Business School in the U.S. "I wanted to learn how to apply problem-solving skills and an engineering mindset to the business world."
Harvard Business School
At Harvard, Leonardo met Ady Beitler and Nicolás Deveali, two other South American entrepreneurs. Ady and Nicolás told Leonardo they were thinking about creating a tech solution to reduce living expenses in low-income communities. Leonardo was inspired by the idea but had to stay focused on his MBA program.
As Leonardo was finishing up his MBA, the pandemic hit. With food insecurity at a peak, Ady and Nicolás approached Leonardo and asked him if he'd like to begin working on a project that would later become Nilus.
Nilus is now a Certified B Corporation that connects low-income families to community leaders who buy and distribute food and other essentials at a lower cost. They focus on tapping into products at risk of being wasted and work directly with suppliers to reduce costs.
In just two years of operations, Nilus has connected over 400,000 individuals in low-income communities across Latin America with over 19 million kilograms of food.
Nilus is currently operating in Mexico City and Buenos Aires, with plans to expand to Miami. But they want to see their business model expand much further.
"My dream is not to see Nilus everywhere in the world. My dream is that Nilus would inspire others to create similar solutions that work for their own local markets."
Right now, Nilus is focused on launching in Miami and becoming a fully-self sustaining business that does not need external funding. "It's a big challenge, but we are really committed to making it happen," Leonardo said.
The Path to Permanent Residency
Before Leonardo could start at Nilus, he needed legal status, so he worked with Legalpad to get an O-1 visa. The O-1 visa was a huge step, but it wasn't long before Leonardo took an even more significant step and began to pursue permanent residency in the U.S.
"You can't plan your life with a temporary visa status," Leonardo explained. "I wanted stability for myself and my partner, so we could create our lives here in the U.S. without worrying about immigration anymore."
Nilus also wanted Leo in the U.S. so he could lead the company's Miami launch. Getting Leonardo a green card would remove immigration barriers, and it would mean that they'd never have to sponsor a visa for him again.
After consulting with one of our skilled immigration attorneys, Leonardo decided to pursue a U.S. green card through the EB-2 National Interest Waiver.
The EB-2 NIW required a lot of documents, letters, and signatures, but Leonardo felt supported throughout the preparation process.
"I was really supported and helped by the Legalpad team. They quickly answered all my questions and jumped onto phone calls when I needed extra support. That made the EB-2 NIW easier even though the application was extensive."
After submitting his EB-2 NIW to the government, Leonardo received the news that it was approved!
Word of Wisdom
When we asked Leonardo what he would say to international professionals who want to follow in his footsteps, he shared:
"Take your time, but make progress every day. Launching an international business and sorting out your immigration can be lengthy. Stay focused day by day, and have enough patience that you won't get disappointed when things don't go as expected."
Leo also advises immigrants seeking a U.S. visa or green card to ensure they work with a knowledgeable and supportive immigration service provider. "Be sure you have a partner to support you along the way. Look for a firm knowledgeable about the specific visa and understands the risks you're taking and the possible outcomes. So, don't rush to people that don't have experience in this because it will be for the worst in the end."
"In the past, I tended to underestimate some of the accomplishments throughout my career. Don't do that," Leo urges others. As it turns out, Leonardo's accomplishments helped him get both an O-1A and an EB-2 NIW.
If you're considering an O-1, EB-2 NIW, or other U.S. visa, get an expert opinion from our team. If you don't qualify today, we can point you in the right direction so you can quickly be eligible for an advantageous visa.