Last week Startup Colorado hosted the Startup America Regional Summit which was a gathering of the leadership of over 25 different Startup State efforts under the structure of the Startup America Partnership. Over 100 people came and we had an awesome two days of discussions which was summarized wonderfully by Christian Renaud (CEO of Present.io and a principal of StartupCity Des Moines) in his post What I learned in Boulder.
After the event, David Mangum, the executive director for Startup Colorado and I were discussing what we had accomplished since launching in November 2011 and I asked him to write up a guest post to summarize. Following are his thoughts. Comments welcome – and if you want to get involved, just email me.
Startup Colorado publicly launched in November 2011, but we began the behind-the-scenes strategy and planning in August, which means that we’ve been going for nearly a year. As Startup Colorado’s Executive Director, I look back on our inaugural efforts with a few observations about what’s worked, what hasn’t, and what we hope to improve as we move into our second year.
We launched Startup Colorado as a movement to spur new company creation across the state, with first year emphasis on Colorado’s Front Range. Our mission has been to increase the breadth and depth of the entrepreneurial ecosystem by multiplying connections among entrepreneurs and mentors, improving access to entrepreneurial education, and building a more vibrant entrepreneurial community.
Four key principles have animated our efforts: (1) for our initiatives to be successful, they require entrepreneurs to lead; (2) we must think and act with a long-term view; (3) we seek to engage entrepreneurs at all levels of experience and success; and (4) the influx of talent is a cornerstone of strengthening a startup ecosystem.
Startup Colorado kicked off with a handful of tractable projects:
- Create an entrepreneurial summer camp in Boulder
- Expand new tech meetups and open coffee clubs in Fort Collins, Denver, and Colorado Springs
- Support entrepreneurial education in the Front Range
- Evaluate current barriers facing entrepreneurs, including an assessment of best practices within entrepreneurial communities around the US and world
- Engage larger companies in the entrepreneurial ecosystem through commitments to help entrepreneurs
- Build the Startup Colorado website to be a user-friendly, thorough database for information and connections
Perhaps our most promising project is the “entrepreneurial summer camp,” renamed Startup Summer. Startup Summer kicked off in late May with 14 college students/2012 college grads working in paid internships for Boulder-area startups. In addition to the full-time internship, Startup Summer offers its participants a variety of evening entrepreneurship events, most important of which is a weekly class on entrepreneurial topics taught by local entrepreneurs, founders, CEOs, and community leaders. Participating interns also will be given the opportunity to work with an area mentor to develop their own business ideas. Startup Summer required a lot of program construction, promotion, applicant recruiting, and company/intern matching and it would not have happened without ample support from Tim Enwall and our top notch Program Coordinator, Eugene Wan. Perhaps more than any other project, this one embodies our core principles: we have a range of entrepreneurial leaders teaching classes and working with the interns, and we are building the program as a way to seed the next generation of Colorado entrepreneurs and strengthen the talent pipeline into the state’s startup ecosystem.
We also have made considerable progress in developing a stronger network of meetups in Colorado Springs, Denver, and Fort Collins. Jan Horsfall and Chris Franz, in conjunction with Peak Venture Group, have invigorated the Colorado Springs meetup system, going from a meetup of 15-20 people last fall to, most recently, 175 people (https://www.meetup.com/PVG-Pitch-Night/). They also are spearheading an open coffee club. In Denver, Erik Mitisek, Jon Rossi, Andrei Taraschuk, and the various meetup organizers have been pushing for greater meetup coherence and organization, including at the Denver New Tech Meetup. Jon Nordmark also has been leading an open coffee club in Denver. After several months of false starts, we also have had exciting progress in Fort Collins with Christine Hudson, who is tackling the Fort Collins New Tech Meetup.
Another exciting project in the works (and not one originally planned) is the Startup Colorado Legal Roundtable, where a handful of local law firms will give free legal advice to a select group of startup founders and CEOs. If you’re a startup entrepreneur interested in this offering, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Other projects have been more challenging, though we have not given up on anything.
One project that may yet take flight is the entrepreneurship education project. Over the past year we talked to many high school teachers and other education non-profits, but did not find a clear project leader to take things and run with them. Steve Halstedt and Dan Caruso recently stepped up with an interest in getting more involved at individual high schools, and we may try to support each of them with teams of MBA and JD students to help run logistics and execution. Our current view is to develop a “startup entrepreneurship” curriculum to be taught afternoons or weekends for high school students, supplement the classes with mentors, and encourage students to develop their own business ideas.
Two other projects that have been harder to get off the ground are engaging bigger companies to help startups and building the Startup Colorado website to be a central resource and connector for entrepreneurs and mentors. Our bigger company engagement project could use more assistance both in connecting to more companies and in helping to manage existing offerings from companies like ViaWest (free hosting for startups). For the website, we have a few ideas for content improvement, including a regional spotlight on what’s happening across the Front Range, entrepreneurs interviewing other entrepreneurs, and more.
Overall, the first year has gone as we expected: some projects would gain traction quickly, some would be a bit wobbly but viable, and some will require more effort. The most important feature of individual project success has been the willingness of multiple people to step up and volunteer a meaningful amount of time to help.
We expect to amplify our efforts to ensure that the next Startup Summer is even better than this year’s. We also aim to continue working to strengthen the individual meetup communities across the Front Range. Other projects may take a few more months of execution before we know their ultimate status, but we are optimistic that with a refined sense of how to work (with project leaders and better delineated ownership) and a renewed vigor for our mission, we can make Startup Colorado’s second year even more impactful than the first.
As Boulder Startup Week 2014 comes to an end, I have been reflecting on the power of startup communities today.
When I wrote Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City, I made some assertions about how to build startup communities and what the impact of them would be on society. As I sit here at the end of a week pondering everything that is going on in the world around startup communities, I believe I have vastly underestimated their potential impact. And this makes me feel very happy.
Startup Week is a great example of an activity and event that I talk about in my Boulder Thesis. It was also another creation from Boulder, just like Startup Weekend, Techstars, and the Boulder Thesis. Andrew Hyde, the founder of Startup Weekend, was also the founder of Startup Week. After a hiatus of a few years, Andrew came back to run Boulder Startup Week. But he is also about to do something magical with Startup Week – look for more on that soon. And, if you enjoyed Boulder Startup Week, go check out Fort Collins Startup Week which is happening from 5/20 – 5/25 and looks awesome.
This reflection led me to think about how to wire up the largest startup community in the world. Geography is one boundary, but the Internet allows us to create a global startup community that is a network of startup communities. UP Global, which I’m on the board of, is doing just that.
You might know UP Global by the names of the two organizations that combined to form it – Startup Weekend and Startup America Partnership. This combination happened about a year ago and the progress in the last year has been remarkable.
I encourage you to take a look at the UP Global 2013 Impact Report. It’s 28 slides and when I looked at it early today it blew my mind. Here are a few key metrics:
- 310,000 alumni and volunteers
- 4,500 mentors
- 132,000 businesses
- 87,000 developers
- 39,000 designers
- 501 cities
- 126 countries
Go look at the UP Global 2013 Impact Report. It’s insanely wonderful how many people and startup communities this organization has touched.
The network is getting incredibly strong and powerful. I believe that networks are now more important in our society than hierarchies. Sure – we’ll have hierarchies forever, but I’m going to spend as much of my time as possible in the network. And for everyone who is part of the network of people engaging in startup communities, thanks for all your efforts on this mission!
On Friday, the USCIS proposed The International Entrepreneurs Rule. While this is a proposal subject to a public comment period, I expect it will go into effect in about 45 days. We finally will have a startup visa!
The best summary I’ve seen so far is from Tahmina Watson titled International Entrepreneurs Rule (Obama’s Startup Visa Alternative)- Detailed Summary by Tahmina. If you want to see a detailed summary from someone who read and analyzed all 155 pages of the rule change, go read Tahmina’s post.
This journey started for me about seven years ago on 9/10/2009 when I wrote the blog post The Founders Visa Movement. Paul Kedrosky and I wrote an OpEd in the Wall Street Journal on 12/2/2009 titled Start-up Visas Can Jump-Start the Economy.
A group of us, including Dave McClure and Eric Ries went to Washington.
I talked about the Startup Visa at conferences.
Bills were proposed but not passed. Lots of articles were written. Many tweets were tweeted. Even a book was written about it by Tahmina Watson. Canada created their own Startup Visa. The UK created an Entrepreneur Visa. But in the US, Congress continued to be unable to create a Startup Visa, under the guise of the failure of comprehensive immigration reform.
In response to the non-action from Congress, I co-founded the Global EIR Coalition with Jeff Bussgang and Craig Montuori. We’ve launched in four states (MA, CO, NY, AK) with a bunch more coming before the end of the year. I finally felt like some progress was being made.
After all the efforts of Congress to do something failed, the White House determined that a Startup Visa could be created under the existing law with a rule change. Tom Kalil and Doug Rand of OSTP worked tirelessly on this (they understood the importance of this from the beginning) and, as part of the announcement on Friday, wrote a great post Welcoming International Entrepreneurs.
It’s been a really long journey but I’m thankful for the support and encouragement of this effort from many people. I’ve learned a lot about our federal government as part of this process and expect that the learning will continue. Hopefully this rule change will survive a new administration (I’m told by a number of experts that it will) and foreign entrepreneurs who want to start companies in the US will have an easier time of it.
Today Senators Kerry (D-MA), Lugar (R-IN) and Udall (D-CO) unveiled the Startup Visa Act of 2011. This is an updated version of the Startup Visa bill from last year that is aimed at making it much easier for foreign entrepreneurs who want to start a company in the US to get a visa. Today, this process is incredibly difficult and has been stifling the creation of new companies and the corresponding job creation that these companies provide.
The Startup Visa Act of 2011 has several significant improvements over last years bill.
– Lowered, More Realistic Thresholds: The minimum investment has be lowered to $100,000. This is more in line with a larger number of startup companies.
– Broadened Qualifications to Include H-1B or Students with Advanced Degrees: Entrepreneurs already in the US on an unexpired H-1B or those who have completed a graduate level degree in science, technology, engineering, math, computer science are eligible to apply as long as they have either an annual income of $30,000 or assets of at least $60,000 and a qualified US investor has agreed to invest at least $20,000. This opens up the Startup Visa to students after they graduate, which is a huge thing.
– Entrepreneurs Who Want to Relocate: Entrepreneurs who’s companies are based outside the US can now relocate as long as their businesses have generated at least $100,000 in sales in the US.
I’m particularly excited about the broadened qualifications. I think every student that graduates with an advanced STEM or computer science degree should have a green card stapled to his or her diploma. It makes no sense to me that we’d make it difficult for the best and the brightest to stay in the US if they want. While this doesn’t go that far, at least it’s now easy for them to stay in the US and start a company if they want.
Amy and I had a very quiet weekend hanging out with each other, Brooks the Wonder Dog, and Super Cooper the Pooper. We like Memorial Day weekend – it always feels like the beginning of summer to us.
I read three books over the weekend. Since I was home, rather than reading on my Kindle, I grabbed some books from the infinite pile of physical books I have in my office. New stuff shows up every week – mostly business and entrepreneurship books, and the occasional “I think you’d like this” book. In addition, whenever I want something that isn’t on the Kindle, I just buy the physical book.
So this weekend was about startup communities with a bonus book on the startup visa tossed in for good measure.
The first was The Making of Silicon Valley: A One Hundred Year Renaissance. This book was written in 1995 and published by the Santa Clara Valley Historical Association so the updated subtitle should be “A One Hundred Year Renaissance – 20 Years Later.” Anyone interested in Silicon Valley, what it means, and how it came together should read this book carefully from cover to cover. There is so much shortened history out there, where the most extensive typically only goes back to Shockley, Fairchild, The Traitorous Eight, and the founding of Intel. The history is so much richer, the one page stories about the companies the shaped each era are just awesome, and the perspective of what 120 years really means for a the startup community that is undeniably the most robust in the world right now is very powerful. It also ends just as the rise of the Internet begins, so it’s the long arc of Silicon Valley is not overshadowed by the last twenty years.
The next book I read was Screw the Valley: A Coast-to-Coast Tour of America’s New Tech Startup Culture. I don’t like the title – it’s too intentionally provocative for my tastes because I’m not anti-Silicon Valley but rather pro-building startup communities everywhere – but the book is excellent. Timothy Sprinkle interviewed me early in his process and then set off on an almost one year trip across the US where he spent real time in Detroit, New York, Las Vegas, Austin, Kansas City, Raleigh-Durham, and Boulder. He writes extremely deep stories about each startup community, along with strengths, weaknesses, and things that are going on that shape them. I show up in a number of times, both personally along with references to my book Startup Communities, and Timothy does a nice job of using some of the concepts from Startup Communities to draw out major themes in each city. This is a great snapshot in time – right now – to show how startup communities develop anywhere.
The last book I read was The Startup Visa: Key to Job Growth & Economic Prosperity in America. Tahmina Watson wrote an extremely clear and easy to process book on the problem of the startup visa, why the US immigration system and visa process doesn’t work for entrepreneurs, why this matters, and makes recommendations about what to do about it. She also gives a nice history of the various bills in Congress, going back to S.3029 in 2010 (Lugar, Kerry) titled “The Startup Visa.” It’s disappointing that it’s five years later and Congress can’t seem to get a bill on the Startup Visa passed – or anything on immigration for that matter – but that’s life in government.
If you want a real punch line to the whole situation, read the short article from the NY Times Magazine – Debunking the Myth of the Job-Stealing Immigrant by Adam Davidson. Amy handed it to me on Monday and I said “I don’t really feel like reading another thing on immigration because I’m so annoyed by our lack of progress.” But then I did, and it was a great read.
Today appears to be government day on Feld Thoughts. This morning I wrote about the Colorado PUC trying to shut down Uber in Colorado (bad). Now I get to write about Senators Mark Udall (D-Colo.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) re-introducing the Startup Visa Act of 2013 (good).
Mark – thank you – you’ve been an awesome supporter of this and leader of the effort since the first day we discussed it in 2009. Senator Flake – thank you for showing leadership on this issue.
Yesterday, as part of his Comprehensive Immigration Report plan, President Obama explicitly listed the Startup Visa as one of the initiatives.
Obama: “Create a “startup visa” for job-creating entrepreneurs. The proposal allows foreign entrepreneurs who attract financing from U.S. investors or revenue from U.S. customers to start and grow their businesses in the United States, and to remain permanently if their companies grow further, create jobs for American workers, and strengthen our economy.”
He also supported stapling green cards to diplomas, something I’ve been advocating since my OpEd with Paul Kedrosky in the Wall Street Journal on 12/2/09 titled Start-up Visas Can Jump-Start the Economy.
Feld/Kedrosky: We also think science and engineering graduates should get visas stapled to their diplomas. You complete your higher education here, you get to stay so that you can get out and create jobs, innovate, and grow the economy. Uncle Sam wants you, if you’re a prospective entrepreneur.
Obama: “Staple” green cards to advanced STEM diplomas. The proposal encourages foreign graduate students educated in the United States to stay here and contribute to our economy by “stapling” a green card to the diplomas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) PhD and Master’s Degree graduates from qualified U.S. universities who have found employment in the United States. It also requires employers to pay a fee that will support education and training to grow the next generation of American workers in STEM careers.
Fred Wilson, who has also been a vocal leader for these initiatives, expressed his appreciation that these issues are now part of the national immigration reform discussion in his post The Startup Visa.
Wilson: The President announced yesterday that he was in favor of a Startup Visa. Hallelujah. … It’s a shame that it takes almost four years before a good idea gets the President’s support. And its a greater shame that there are many in Congress who will still vote against this idea.
Fred and I are both paranoid optimists – we both hope this gets done this time around. Our country deserves it. Senators Udall and Flake – thank you for the leadership here.
Yesterday there was solid progress on the Startup Visa Movement – specifically making it easier for foreign entrepreneurs to start their companies in the US. The WSJ had a good summary article titled U.S. to Assist Immigrant Job Creators that discusses two formal communications from the Obama administration.
- Press release from the Department of Homeland Security titled Secretary Napolitano Announces Initiatives to Promote Startup Enterprises and Spur Job Creation
- Post on the White House blog titled Making It Easier for Immigrants to Start Companies in the United States by the Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)
There are additional guidelines listed in detail at the following links.
- New guidelines on how entrepreneurs can qualify for an EB-2 green card with National Interest Waiver
- New guidelines on how entrepreneurs can satisfy the employer-employee relationship requirement for an H-1B visa (see the second-to-last question about sole owners)
- Implementation of enhancements to EB-5 immigrant investor program, including premium processing
- Public engagement between entrepreneur community and USCIS to inform new training of USCIS adjudicators
I’ve been working on this issue since I wrote the post The Founders Visa Movement on 9/10/09 (all my posts can be seen in the category summary Startup Visa on my blog). A number of colleagues throughout the entrepreneurial community (entrepreneurs, angels, VCs) joined in on the effort as it became a formal grass-roots movement, resulting in several bills being drafted in Congress in 2010 and then 2011.
While I’ve learned a lot about politics, Congress, and how Washington works in the past two years, one thing that became painfully apparent to me was that Congress was completely stalled on anything related to immigration issues. While I’ve continued to view the Startup Visa as a jobs issue (we need more entrepreneurs in the US – anyone should be able to start a company here if they want to, and that creates jobs, which is good for our economy) that’s not how people in Washington see it (“visa” – that means “immigration”).
In parallel, a number of us have been talking to key people in the White House, including the amazing Aneesh Chopra, the White House CTO. Aneesh totally gets this issue as do a number of his colleagues in the White House and the Office of Science and Technology Policy and they’ve been working on non-legislative solutions that can be implemented with policy changes in USCIS. While the changes made yesterday don’t cover every case, they make a solid step in the right direction.
In the past six months, I’ve personally been involved in about ten cases of foreign entrepreneurs trying to get valid US visas so they could either start their company here or join a US-based company that they helped co-found. After being stymied for a variety of reasons, including extremely aggressive, negative, and inconsistent behavior at the border from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers, most of the folks I’ve been talking to and/or helping have been able to get visas. In all cases, they were willing to share their stories, in detail, with people on the White House staff, who I think have been extremely thoughtful and diligent about understanding what was going on, worked hard to figure out appropriate and legal solutions, and provided a constructive and empathetic ear to the very frustrated entrepreneurs.
I don’t feel comfortable naming names as most people are very concerned about confidentiality around immigration issues, but I’m proud of the efforts by many of these entrepreneurs. They didn’t give up, didn’t get angry even when they had plenty of reason to, and were willing to be very open with White House officials in trying to help figure out a more effective approach. I’m also very impressed with the folks at the White House and OSTP who I’ve been working with on this issue. The contrast between their efforts, thoroughness, and their “let’s solve the problem” vs. a “let’s be political” attitude is commendable.
There are plenty of additional things in the Startup Visa Movement that need to be addressed but I feel like we made some progress today. Thanks to everyone who has been involved – you are a force for good in the world.
Today, Senator John Kerry (D-MA) and Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN) introduced the StartUp Visa Act of 2010. The group of us behind the Startup Visa project have been working closely with key members of each Senators’ staff on this and we are incredibly pleased with the proposed bill.
Following is the text from the press release announcing the bill:
“Senators John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today introduced legislation to drive job creation and increase America’s global competiveness by helping immigrant entrepreneurs secure visas to the United States.
The StartUp Visa Act of 2010 will allow an immigrant entrepreneur to receive a two year visa if he or she can show that a qualified U.S. investor is willing to dedicate a significant sum – a minimum of $250,000 – to the immigrant’s startup venture.
“Global competition for talent and investment grows more intense daily and the United States must step up or be left behind,” said Sen. Kerry. “Everywhere Dick Lugar and I travel for the Foreign Relations Committee, we see firsthand the entrepreneurial spirit driving the economies of our competitors. Creating a new magnet for innovations and innovators to come to the United States and create jobs here will offer our economy a double shot in the arm – robust job creation at home and reaffirmation that we’re the world’s best place to do business.”
“Our country should strive to attract to the United States the most talented and highly skilled entrepreneurs. We should channel the power of innovative thinkers from around the world and American investors towards creating jobs and encouraging economic growth and future prosperity,” said Ranking Member Lugar.
The StartUp Visa Act of 2010 would amend immigration law to create a new EB-6 category for immigrant entrepreneurs, drawing from existing visas under the EB-5 category, which permits foreign nationals who invest at least $1 million into the U.S., and thereby create ten jobs, to obtain a green card. After proving that he or she has secured initial investment capital and if, after two years, the immigrant entrepreneur can show that he or she has generated at least five full-time jobs in the United States, attracted $1 million in additional investment capital or achieved $1 million in revenue, then he or she would receive permanent legal resident status.
More than 160 venture capitalists from across the country have endorsed the senators’ proposal. That letter of support is attached.”
The support from the venture capital and super angel community has been fantastic. Now that we have both a sponsored house bill (HR 4259 – sponsored by Jared Polis (D-CO)) and a sponsored senate bill, it’s time to crank up the grassroots support. Look for a few specific things to do in the next few days on both this blog and the Startup Visa blog.
As many of you know, I’ve been involved in advocating for the Startup Visa since the idea was first conceived in the fall of 2009. While it’s frustrating to me that some leaders in Congress are much more interested in trying to jam through bills, such as SOPA and PIPA, that fundamentally censor and undermine the structure of the Internet, rather than support entrepreneurs and the corresponding jobs that get created by creating a Startup Visa, I’m optimistic and hopeful that logic ultimately prevails. Other than that, my mentors who know how DC works much better than I do encourage me to stay patient and unemotional and to keep trying.
While Congress has been completely stalled on the Startup Visa, the White House hasn’t. Several months ago I wrote a post about the policy changes that have a material, positive impact immigrant entrepreneurs who apply for a visa. I’ve been on several email threads with Alejandro Mayorkas, Director, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and have been impressed with his rapid response and willingness to take real action along the lines of the new White House guidelines.
Last week I was briefed on a USCIS “Entrepreneurs in Residence” Initiative. It’s an awesome idea and another example of the White House trying to move the ball forward on the Startup Visa within the current law. Here’s the crux of the announcement
“Most recently, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced an innovative new Entrepreneurs in Residence (EIR) initiative, with the immediate goal of recruiting a small “tactical team” of business experts to work with USCIS staff to help streamline operations and enhance pathways within existing immigration law to help immigrant entrepreneurs start and grow businesses in the United States This intensive 90-day project is a major priority for USCIS, the Department of Homeland Security, and the White House Startup America initiative.”
While this is an unpaid three month EIR (with the possible extension of another three months), I think it’s a perfect role for an entrepreneur in between gigs who is passionate about helping create a Startup Visa. Take a look at the job description and if this is you, e-mail a resume to email@example.com before 11:59 p.m. ET on December 31, 2011.
I’m extremely excited that Senator Mark Udall (D-CO), the senior senator for Colorado, has signed on as a co-sponsor of The Startup Visa Act of 2010 that was originally proposed by Senators Kerry (D-MA) and Lugar (R-IN). Senator Udall joins his Colorado colleague in the House, Jared Polis (D-CO), who has proposed Startup Visa legislation as part of his EB-5 reform bill.
In addition, our friends at SVB Financial (the parent of Silicon Valley Bank) have also formally endorsed the Startup Visa. My partner Jason Mendelson wrote a post about a roundtable that Silicon Valley Bank hosted for members of “the new Democrat Coalition” which included Jared Polis. Shortly after this meeting, SVB formally endorsed the Startup Visa.
I’m really proud that two of Colorado’s members of Congress are leading the charge on the Startup Visa. I have deep respect for both Mark and Jared, their understanding of the importance of entrepreneurship, and their vision for innovation in our country. I’m also grateful that SVB – which has been an integral part of the entrepreneurial activity throughout the US – for their support as well.
We are working on a few additional major announcements and endorsements in the next sixty days. I’ve received a number of requests for ways to help. At this point, if you are part of an organization that you think would be supportive of the Startup Visa, please drop me an email and let’s talk about ways to get a formal endorsement.