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When asked to name the most notable rags-to-riches entrepreneur that his firm has funded, venture capitalist Ben Horowitz doesn’t hesitate: Christian Gheorghe, a Romanian immigrant who came to the United States without speaking English, and rose from limo driver to founder of a business-analytics company, Tidemark. It’s an impressive tale that encapsulates the way Silicon Valley likes to think of itself: a pure meritocracy; a place where talent rises to the top regardless of social class, educational pedigree, race, nationality or anything else. Indeed, the notion that anyone with smarts, drive and a great idea can raise money and start...

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