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Aug 3 2016

Reason for Reform: Join the Movement for Immigration Reform

As an investor, I’m always looking for the next great American company. Who will create tomorrow’s Twitter, Facebook, or Google?

Today it is just as likely to be someone born in Beijing or Jaipur as it is to be someone from Boston or Boulder. In 2016, you no longer have to be in Silicon Valley to launch a successful startup. Colorado is home to many.

However, national borders do still matter and our current immigration system unfortunately isn’t designed to allow anyone looking to create the next Fitbit the ability to easily do so in America. As a result, we lose out to other countries as non-US founders start their ventures to countries like Canada, Chile, or Singapore instead of the US, often because it’s impossible for them to get appropriate visas to create their companies while living in the US.

That’s why I’m spreading the word about the Partnership for a New American Economy’s Reason for Reform campaign, which calls on business leaders, entrepreneurs, students, and others from across the US to tell Congress why America needs immigration reform by recording a short video clip from their cell phones or computers, giving their “reason for reform.”

Check out Reason for Reform here and submit your own video.

Coinciding with the launch of this campaign, Partnership for a New American Economy has marked today as a National Day of Action and is holding events in all 50 states and in Washington, DC to call attention to the economic contributions of immigrants in America. The day will also include the release of new state-specific research. You can check out your state’s report here.

Immigrants have historically been an entrepreneurial bunch. Today, immigrants represent more than 10 percent of Colorado’s entrepreneurs. In 2014, their businesses contributed more than $560 million in revenue to Colorado’s economy. Of the nine Colorado-based companies that appear on the Fortune 500 list, a third of them were founded by immigrants or their children. These three firms alone provide 53,000 jobs and generate more than $20 billion in revenue each year.

Providing sufficient staffing for these companies is another hurdle. Today in Colorado, there are 15 unfilled jobs for every one unemployed STEM worker. While we should certainly be investing in our own STEM education, we should take advantage of the thousands of international students who come here to study and are ready to fill these gaps immediately upon graduation. A new Colorado report released today by the Partnership for a New American Economy (PNAE) calculates that 27.5 percent of all students earning STEM-related PhDs in Colorado are from other countries. Many of these students want to stay to further the research they started in their programs and build companies from their findings. Almost 1,000 jobs could be created for American workers if even half of the 740 graduate students on temporary visas in Colorado were allowed to stay upon completion of their programs.

America’s future as the global leader in innovation remains in the balance until our immigration system is fixed. A large portion of a reform package should focus on updating our system to better reflect the business landscape and market realities of the 21st Century.

Apr 26 2018

Canada Is Going To Be The Next, Great, Entrepreneurial Tech Country

This article, Engineers Are Leaving Trump’s America for the Canadian Dream, stimulated a simple thought for me.

Canada has a huge, near-term competitive opportunity over to the US. 

I have a deeply held belief that US entrepreneurship has benefited extraordinarily over since World War II due to the desire of people from around the world to come to make their lives in the US. While this immigration philosophy started with the drafting of the Declaration of Independence in 1776 (and arguably before that with the European colonization of America), it transformed entrepreneurship, the US economy, and the US’s place in the world dramatically from the 1950s on.

While there are lots of issues around immigration, I believe the US’s relative permissiveness around, and openness to, people from other countries had a remarkably positive impact on the US. I wouldn’t be here other than the immigration of my great-grandparents (and my maternal grandfather) in the early 1900’s from Europe and Russia. While I feel deeply (and proudly) American, I know that my family has only been here for a few generations.

I’ve been aware of and engaged in issues around immigration for the last decade. When I saw this article yesterday, titled U.S. startup visa draws only 10 applicants as Trump throttles program, I thought to myself “duh.” I then read the article, which had a good punch line in the second paragraph.

“A big reason for the shortfall is that the year-old program has been constantly under assault since the election of President Donald Trump, whose agenda revolves around tightening immigration rules and dismantling Obama-era policies. The Homeland Security Department has twice delayed implementation of the program but agreed to leave the application process open after venture capitalists won a court challenge in December. No one has been granted a visa, and Homeland Security said last year that it’s working on a plan to kill the rule entirely.”

Yeah, well, I wouldn’t apply for one of those things either. After advocating for and working on the Startup Visa for almost a decade, it was powerful to end up with something at the end of 2016 (the International Entrepreneur Rule, which was the closest we’ve been to this) but disheartening to see the endless and continuous attack and attempt to undermine this by the current administration.

This is a gift to Canada around entrepreneurship, and I’ve already seen the impact of it in many places. The Toronto/Waterloo startup community is on fire. Many companies I’m involved in are exploring offices in Canada, especially Vancouver (for the Seattle folks) and Toronto (for the east coast folks) since it’s so difficult to get work visas in the US for employees. Other entrepreneurs from around the world are simply opting to start the company in Canada rather than the US because of all the uncertainty around visa status.

I’ve always liked Canada. There is a window in time where Canada has a massive strategic geographic advantage over the US. It’ll be interesting to look back in twenty years and see if the country capitalized on it.

Mar 2 2017

Immigration Fundraiser: For Here or To Go

A little over a year ago I wrote a post about a feature film Amy and I were helping fund called For Here or To Go. The movie is about a set of Indian software developers in the US on H1-B visas. The main character wanted to start a company, or join a startup, but couldn’t make either happen in the context of the current H1-B visa constraints.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ukSE5jV4eRM

It felt relevant when we helped fund it. It seems even more relevant today. It’s an excellent movie and my punch line from the blog post a year ago was:

“Now, this wasn’t a dry movie. While I don’t know Indian culture very well, Rishi created a rich set of characters, interwoven storylines, and a powerful content – including the challenge of romantic relationships while having an uncertain future around one’s immigration status – that drew me in to the movie.”

For Here or To Go is now finished and will be out at the end of March. Amy and I committed to match up to $25,000 of a $55,000 fundraising campaign to help get wider distribution for move. If this is something you are willing to participate in, go to the Crowdrise page and give whatever amount you are willing, knowing that Amy and I are matching you dollar for dollar.

Jun 24 2016

For Here or To Go

It’s 2am on Friday and I’m awake because Brooks the Wonder Dog is afraid of thunderstorms. His approach to them is to literally try to climb under my body while I’m sleeping, which prevents me from sleeping, which results in me watching the Brexit insanity in real time.

Yesterday, we had our own US insanity around immigration as our Supreme Court voted 4-4 on the legality of Obama’s executive orders on immigration. This means that the issue gets kicked back down to the lower court and nothing is likely going to happen on this until after the election. There are so many ironies in this, especially against the backdrop of the potential immigration implications in England of the Brexit, that one can only wonder if our politicians are taking Game of Thrones a little too literally.

It’s easy to view all of this abstractly, rather than think about how it impacts individual people. Two weeks ago I watched a movie by Rishi Bhilawadikar titled For Here or To Go? It was about a set of Indian software developers in the US on H1-B visas. The main character wanted to start a company, or join a startup, but couldn’t make either happen in the context of the current H1-B visa constraints.

Now, this wasn’t a dry movie. While I don’t know Indian culture very well, Rishi created a rich set of characters, interwoven storylines, and a powerful content – including the challenge of romantic relationships while having an uncertain future around one’s immigration status – that drew me in to the movie.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q4F3A_e4zAc

There were several big twists, including the challenges of a large company co-founded by two Indian immigrants, one who was frustrated with the US immigration system and wanted highly educated Indians in the US to go back to India and start their companies there. This intersected with the main character’s romantic relationship and job search, which came together at the end in a powerful way.

Rishi is planning on formally releasing the movie at the beginning of next year. I’ve offered to help, and – like I did with Code: Debugging the Gender Gap – am providing some financing for that effort. If you care about the immigration issue and want to help with the movie in some way, email me and I’ll get you set up with a free full preview screening of the movie so you can watch it and decide if you want to get more involved.

Mar 7 2010

Silicon Flatirons Conference: The Role of Place: Entrepreneurial Immigration, Iteration, and Innovation

On Thursday, March 18th (during CU Entrepreneurship Week) there is going to be a great Silicon Flatirons Conference on “The Role of Place”Brad Bernthal, who is chairing the conference, leads with a great quote from Harvard Professor and Monitor Group co-founder Michael Porter.

"Paradoxically, the enduring competitive advantages in a global economy lie increasingly in local things – knowledge, relationships, and motivation – that distant rivals cannot match."

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this personally given all my work around the Boulder entrepreneurial community, TechStars, Foundry Group’s investments in different parts of the US, and the Startup Visa initiative. 

I’ll be on the first panel titled Entrepreneurial Immigration Policy with Lance Nagel (partner in Morgan, Lewis & Bockius’ Labor and Employment Practice) and Vivek Wadhwa (Senior Research Associate, Labor & Worklife Program at Harvard Law School and an Adjunct Professor at the Duke University Pratt School of Engineering).  I expect we’ll get a good chance to cover plenty of ground, including several of the incredible immigrant entrepreneur loci and projects like the Startup Visa initiative.

The second panel is Place and Iteration: Lessons From Storage and includes several folks who have been involved in the Boulder “storage ecosystem” over the past 30 years, including Jesse Aweida (founder of StorageTek) and Kyle Lefkoff (general partner of Boulder Ventures, who has invested in several Boulder storage companies over the years including McData and LeftHand Networks).  Jim Linfield (partner at Cooley Godward, the founder of Cooley’s Colorado office, and counsel for a number of Colorado storage companies) will be anchoring the panel.

The third panel is Innovation and The Architecture of Geography and will explore broader lessons and insight concerning the role of place, regional architecture, and innovation.

Once again, my friends at Silicon Flatiron have put together a rich conference on a very important and timely topic.  It’s taking place at the Wittemyer Courtroom, Wolf Law Building, University of Colorado on Thursday, March 18, 2010 from 2:30PM to 6:30PM.  Register now and come join us.

Mar 31 2015

Trying Something New On Immigration In Colorado

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.

Jan 25 2013

Canada’s Start-Up Visa Program

I read the announcement today that Canada has just launched a Start-Up Visa Program. By doing so, they are saying to the world “welcome immigrant entrepreneurs – please come start your business in Canada.” It’s brilliant, well executed, and modeled after the Startup Visa movement that a number of us have been trying to get started in the US since 2009.

I continue to be really discouraged by the US government activity around the Startup Visa movement, and more specifically around immigration reform as it applies to entrepreneurs. After trying for the past three years to get something passed, nothing has happened beyond administrative changes to the existing laws. While in some cases this has improved the interpretation of the rules, we are still totally missing the boat here in the US. CBP and USCIS continue to implement the rules inconsistently, resulting in regular outrageous situations including tossing entrepreneurs with existing valid visas in jail when they enter the US and banning other entrepreneurs from coming into the country as a result of misinterpretation by CBP of how things should work. I hear at least one horrifying story a week, try to help when I can, but mostly am just embarrassed and ashamed of our US policies around this.

While Canada is plowing forward making it easy for immigrant entrepreneurs to move to Canada and start companies, the US efforts are now entirely focused on “comprehensive immigration reform.” The first bills for this are supposed to start appearing in a few months and I expect we’ll see similar dynamics that we saw around Obamacare. Endless political machinations, an ever expanding set of bills that cover all kinds of things in addition to immigration reform, and a complex set of tradeoffs that have unintended consequences that no one can understand.

On top of this, I’ve heard from a number of political insider friends that “the vote math doesn’t work.” I’ve learned that this means it is an incredible uphill battle to get anything passed, and the compromise that is going to happen to get certain people in Congress to support the bills means that the “tradeoffs and compromises” (which the more cynical among us – including me – means “the political bribes they need to agree to vote a certain way”)are going to be extensive.

In the mean time, Canada is shouting from the rooftops about the benefits of the Start-Up Visa program.

  • The Start-up Visa Program will enable immigrant entrepreneurs to launch innovative companies that will create jobs in Canada, and eventually, compete globally.
  • The Program will provide entrepreneurs with valuable assistance in navigating the Canadian business environment which can sometimes prove challenging for newcomers.
  • The Program will provide private sector firms with access to a broader range of entrepreneurs, including the best and the brightest minds from around the world.

Since I believe entrepreneurs should be able to start their companies anywhere in the world they’d like, I applaud the Canadian government for taking action here. And I encourage any immigrant entrepreneur considering moving to the US to also consider moving to Canada given this new program.

Dear Mr. Friends In Washington: Pay attention. We continue to be less competitive because of our intransigence around immigration, especially with regard to being entrepreneurs. Canada is showing real leadership. Why not just emulate them?

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Apr 24 2013

TechStars London approved for UK Entrepreneurs’ Visa

Last week TechStars London was approved for the UK Entrepreneurs’ Visa. If you are accepted to TechStars London, you now automatically get the UK Entrepreneurs’ Visa.

The approval will allow TechStars London teams from outside of the EU to work in the UK for up to three years. After the three years, they can apply to extend their stay by a further two years if they want to continue living here.  Furthermore after three years teams have the right to apply for permission to settle in the UK if their business has created at least 10 new full-time jobs in the UK. Partners and children of the teams can also apply for settlement.

As you likely know, I’ve been advocating for something like this in the US since 2009. Fred Wilson wrote a good post yesterday on the current state of Immigration Reform in the US which includes a summary of the recently introduced comprehensive immigration reform bill. It includes a bunch of things I’ve advocated for since I started paying attention to this in 2009, including a Startup Visa and a STEM Visa (or – in my language – “a Visa stapled to the diploma of every college graduate.”)

I hope we finally get something done in the US. In the mean time, Canada and the UK are being very forward looking about their immigration policy in the context of immigration. The US doesn’t have a monopoly on innovation – it’s time for us to get our act together on the immigration front. In the mean time, TechStars London applications are open!

Aug 3 2011

Progress On The Startup Visa Movement

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.

There are additional guidelines listed in detail at the following links.

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.

Jan 30 2017

AVC, Gotham Gal, and Feld Thoughts Communities Rally $100,000+ For The ACLU

Sunday morning Fred Wilson put up the following blog post: A $20,000 Match Offer On ACLU Donations Today. Joanne Wilson put up a similar post titled A $20,000 Match Offer On ACLU Donations Today on her blog.

It came after a flurry of emails that started with one from me at 7:41am.

“Inspired by Chris Sacca, Amy and I are considering doing an ACLU grant with a 100% match”

Joanne, Fred, Amy, and I were all distressed by Trump’s executive order on immigration, which Fred wrote about in Make America Hate Again and I wrote in Unsettled and Disgusted. We had seen the ACLU already jump into action so we collectively decided to do something about it by supporting it.

Fred’s partner Albert Wenger and his wife Susan Danzinger had already started a match for $15,000 so we (Fred, Joanne, me, and Amy) agreed that when they maxed out they’d hand the ball to us to match for another $20,000.

Jet lag then ate my soul and I went to sleep for a few hours. When I woke up, Amy said “we did something good while you were asleep.” I had well over 100 tweets with ACLU receipts, Fred had started a spreadsheet of all the matching gifts, and we had blown through our $20,000 match. By the end of the day, we were over $90,000 of matches with more coming in so we stopped counting and, with our $20,000, were easily over $100,000 to the ACLU in one day, which started with Fred’s blog post.

By the end of the day it had picked up enough speed to become a TechCrunch article: Some tech executives are matching ACLU donations amid immigration ban protests.

We know more executive orders on immigration are expected. Bloomberg is hinting Trump’s Next Move on Immigration to Hit Closer to Home for Tech. Regardless of how this plays out, I’m hopeful that Congress will step up and do their job at this point, rather than just let executive orders slide by, create chaos, and get litigated in court. Remember – Congress makes the laws and the President is supposed to execute the instructions of Congress.

In the mean time, thanks to everyone who contributed to the ACLU match yesterday. We helped the ACLU raise $24 million since Saturday morning. For perspective, the ACLU typically raises a total of $4 million in a year. Amy and I have been long time ACLU supporters and I expect they will have an outsized and important role in our democracy in the next four years.