Yesterday morning, over scrambled eggs and smoked salmon with Jeff Bussgang of Flybridge Capital (he had yogurt), we talked about immigration reform and our broken immigration system. Both Jeff and I have been working hard on making it much easier for immigrant entrepreneurs to get visa’s to start their companies in the US. Both of us have been unsuccessful in our efforts at a national level. At the end of the discussion, we decided to start the Global EIR Coalition to open source our approach and try to help every state in the US implement a similar program.
Last year Jeff and a bunch of his friends in Massachusetts created the Massachusetts Global Entrepreneur in Residence pilot program. The MA GEIR was a brilliant approach to a state level solution to this problem. The MA group did extensive legal work on this and the MA legislature passed a bill for it as part of their 2014 Jobs Act.
I watched from the sidelines with intrigue. I had become very discouraged at a federal level and have been spending mental cycles pondering state’s rights issues and state level approaches to things. I have deep respect and admiration for two our Colorado’s congressman – Michael Bennet (senate) and Jared Polis (house) – each which have worked very hard on immigration reform – and have learned a huge amount from them, including how hard it is to get things done in Washington. I also have enormous respect for Mark Udall who was Colorado’s senior senator and one of the original sponsors of the Startup Visa bill.
So when I started seeing what Jeff was doing in Massachusetts, I started working on a similar approach in Colorado with Craig Montuori, and Chris Nicholson of Venture Politics. This culminated in our recent launch of the Colorado EIR program.
One difference between the MA and the CO programs is funding. In MA, there was originally $3 million of state funding. I decided I wanted to try this in CO without any state funding, so I just funded the program myself for the first year to the tune of $150,000 (CU decided it was important to provide some funding directly as well, so they are contributing $50,000 to the program.) Unfortunately, after the election, the new MA governor defunded the program (although he has reinstated $100,000 of funding) so the group in MA is now working on a funding approach that does not rely heavily on the state.
As we iterate on this, we are learning an enormous amount about what works and what doesn’t work. Jeff and I agreed that we should amplify and expand our learning, so other states can build off of our experience as well as help us figure out a long-term, sustainable approach. We are clearly in experimentation mode, but with strong support intellectually from local leaders, such as Phil Weiser (Dean of CU Boulder Law School and head of Silicon Flatirons.)
While I’m not giving up on a federal solution, I plan to put my money and my energy into a state level solution. The dynamics around gay marriage and legalization of marijuana have intrigued me greatly, and as I read early American History, I understand (and remember) the original dynamic of the United States, where there are States that are United from the bottom up, rather than simply a federal government dictating policy top down.
As someone who loves networks and hates hierarchies, this is the right approach for my psyche. I’m ready to take another big swing at this from a different angle.
If you are working on something similar in your state, please reach out to join the Global EIR Coalition. Today is our first day in existence, so expect us to be chaotic, underfunded, and under-resourced just like every other raw startup. But, like Steve Blank and Eric Ries inspire us to do, we are just launching, aggressively doing customer developing, and iterating rapidly.
And, if you are a foreign entrepreneur who wants to build your company in Colorado, email me to apply to the Colorado GEIR program.
For Jeff’s perspective on what we are doing, take a look at his post Hacking Immigration – The Global EIR Coalition.
I’ve been working on the Startup Visa since I first wrote about it on 9/10/2009 in my post The Founders Visa Movement. While there has periodically been improvement on the margins on the issue, I think our federal government has broadly failed us on this front.
So, I’m going to try something different. Yesterday, CU Boulder announced a new Entrepreneurs in Residence program to be administered by the Silicon Flatirons program. While the program is open to any entrepreneur, including those in the US, we are particularly focused on international entrepreneurs.
Through extensive work with Craig Montuori and leadership from Phil Weiser, the Dean of CU Law and head of Silicon Flatirons, we’ve come up with a neat approach that follows from the work that was done in Massachusetts, led by Jeff Bussgang and others, and originally approved as a major state initiative, only to see its funding pulled back after the recent election cycle.
The program in Colorado follows a similar approach with one major difference. It’s privately funded and doesn’t rely on anything from the state. My wife Amy Batchelor and I are putting up most of the funding for the first year program. It’s a major gift from us and more of me trying to put my money where my mouth is on issues I care about.
In the next 12 months, we’ll have four EIRs as part of the pilot program. They will be employed by CU Boulder for 20 hours per week and will receive a stipend of $25,000 per academic year (which starts in July). We’ll cover the cost of the H1-B visa if necessary, which is easy to acquire because H1-B visas for universities are uncapped.
Importantly, consistent with university policy and applicable law, entrepreneurs in the program will be free to work on their existing entrepreneurial ventures or start a new company.
We have a broad model for engagement in Boulder for new entrepreneurs. Between Techstars, Galvanize, Silicon Flatirons, the Blackstone Entrepreneurs Network, and many other accelerators, there will be significant mentorship opportunities. In the summer time, they’ll be part of Startup Summer (run by Startup Colorado in conjunction with Silicon Flatirons) along with being paired with a new MIT MBA Summer Internship in Boulder that I’m about to roll out (ah – foreshadowing…) And, with our broad #GiveFirst attitude across the startup community, they’ll be welcomed with open arms.
I’ve gotten worn out on the federal level immigration fight. I’m happy to continue to participate in advocacy for change around visas for entrepreneurs, but I’ve decided to focus my energy, and money, on exploring and experimenting with state-oriented solutions.
If you are interested in applying for one of the four EIR slots, just drop me an email and I’ll plug you in.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org before 11:59 p.m. ET on December 31, 2011.