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Dec 23 2009

Startup Visa OpEd in the Wall Street Journal

After having a few conversations yesterday about the Startup Visa, I realized that I never posted the Wall Street Journal OpEd on the Startup Visa that Paul Kedrosky and I wrote and had published on 12/2/09.  I don’t know the rules about reposting OpEd’s – I assume that since we wrote it I can republish it.  If that’s not true, I’m sure some one will tell me.  In the mean time, here it is:

Start-up Visas Can Jump-Start the Economy

Immigrant entrepreneurs are an engine of jobs and growth. We need more of them.

While fast-growing companies have long been the main source of new jobs and innovation, this country makes it outrageously difficult for immigrants to launch new companies here. This doesn’t make any sense. After all, Google, Pfizer, Intel, Yahoo, DuPont, eBay and Procter & Gamble are all former start-ups founded by immigrants. Where would this country be today without their world-changing innovations?

Immigrants have not only founded big, well-known companies. Foreign-born residents made up just 12.5% of the U.S. population in 2008. But nearly 40% of technology company founders and 52% of founders of companies in Silicon Valley.

Yet we don’t seem to care. We send recent, foreign-born university science and engineering graduates back to their own countries after their student visas expire—unless these creative sorts are willing to spend some of the most entrepreneurial years of their lives working in a big company under an H-1B visa after they finish their studies.

For those who studied elsewhere, but who nonetheless want to bring their job-creating ideas here, American policies treat them—the job-creating, trouble-making innovators that they are—as a cross between deadbeats and queue-jumpers. Why can’t they wait in line like everyone else to get a visa in five years or so? What’s their hurry?

Their hurry is Joseph Schumpeter’s hurry: They want to hustle out and disrupt markets when the opportunity arises.

In the 21st century those opportunities don’t wait for our interminable, employment-based visa programs. As a result rather than saying "Come and create jobs here" we, in effect, tell them to shove off. Come back when you have a few million in sales— at which point they will be rooted elsewhere and creating jobs somewhere else.

That needs to end now. Immigrants who come here to create companies create jobs. We need the jobs.

One good idea to make this process easier is to create a new visa for entrepreneurs, something that is increasingly being called by venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, and angel investors a "start-up visa." It might work like this: If immigrant entrepreneurs want to start a company in the U.S. and are able to raise a moderate amount of money (perhaps as little as $125,000) from an accredited U.S.-based venture capital firm or qualified U.S.-based angel investors, we should let them start a company here. It could be a couple of founders with an idea—that’s it. We would give visas to the founders and welcome them in to our country.

Would it work every time? Of course not. It would fail more often than not. Start-ups often fail.

But having failed, the immigrant entrepreneurs could try again, and again. And as long as they are trying, raising money, creating jobs, and making sales, we would let them stay here. Founders of new companies are precious for a vibrant economy, and we should welcome them. Indeed, the country would be better served to find more of them.

Some will say a start-up visa program will be abused. They will say that it will become a way to end-run immigration rules, to jump the queue if you have money.

There are at least two answers to these objections. First, to get such a visa you would have to raise money from real investors. Second, Canada and other countries already allow entrepreneurs to start a company in their country. Shouldn’t the U.S. stop worrying so much about keeping these people out, and start worrying about bringing them in?

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.

The U.S. remains one of the most attractive countries for entrepreneurs. It has a culture of risk taking, capital formation, and an economic dynamism that is the envy of the world. This gives us a competitive edge that we should not let slip through our fingers.

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.

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.

Aug 11 2008

EFCO Annual Give Back Event

The Entrepreneurs Foundation of Colorado is having their first annual "give back" event on Saturday 8/16.  If you are an employee of a company that is an EFCO member, you and your family are invited.  EFCO is doing this in conjunction with the Intercambio-KGNU Friendship Fun Run.  The logistics follow:

August 16 at Foothills Community Park (at Broadway and Violet, Boulder)
8 AM & 9:15 AM Adult 5K
8:45 AM Kids’ 1K
11 AM to Noon – Intercambio Strategic Planning Session  
Noon – Celebration Family Picnic

For some background on Intercambio, I asked Lee Shainis, the Executive Director, a few questions.

  • Who is Intercambio?  We are an innovative, efficient and independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization founded in 2001 that works to build respectful communities and broaden opportunities for immigrants through language education, cultural exchange and friendship. 
  • What does Intercambio do? We provide affordable and flexible English classes for over 1,000 adult immigrants each year, taught by over 350 trained volunteers at immigrants’ homes, other nonprofit agencies, and at public buildings.  We also offer community resource information and workshops as well as intercultural exchange through community social events such as potlucks, fiestas, camping trips and park clean-ups.  Over 1,800 people attend our intercultural events each year. 
  • Why is this important for our community? In recent years, immigration has sparked a great deal of fear and discomfort in our society. Immigrants are striving to feel more confident and successful in their surrounding communities, but language barriers, fear, and lack of cultural understanding are severe obstacles. Intercambio provides a sustainable solution to these challenges and addresses the root causes by bringing together individuals from different backgrounds for an ongoing period of time with the objectives of learning from each other, building understanding, and creating a more inclusive community in which people of all cultural backgrounds feel better able to communicate, participate, and contribute.  We are transforming the way immigrants and non-immigrants are able to communicate with each other, while fostering intercultural friendships that lead to deeper cultural understanding.

Come join us for what should be a fun and interesting morning.  Register for the fun run and – if you are interested in volunteering to help with the event – please email Brandon Rattiner.

May 22 2013

Patent and Immigration Reform Activities

h1b in canadaTwo of the public policy things I care about are patent reform and immigration reform. I believe our patent system – especially with regard to software and business method patents – is completely and totally broken. And our immigration system – especially concerning immigrant entrepreneurs – is an embarrassment.

There is suddenly a lot of focus and attention on both of these issues. That’s good, and I’m hopeful that it will result in some meaningful positive changes. It pains me to see other countries – such as Canada, the UK, and New Zealand – be more progressive, open, and forward thinking around entrepreneurship and innovation than the US. There are days when I’m discouraged by our political system, but as I’ve gotten older and spent more time with it the past few years, I’m getting to a zen state of not being discouraged, but rather accepting the reality of the process and just being consistent and clear about what I think is important and how to fix it.

On the patent front, Twitter recently finalized a powerful approach – the Innovator’s Patent Agreement (the IPA). With this, they’ve agreed – as a company – to only use their patents defensively. I think this is extraordinary leadership on Twitter’s part. Our government and the USPTO is not moving aggressively to fix a problem that is now stifling innovation in the software industry, so leaders in the software industry can, and should, take matters into the own hands. As Fred Wilson describes in his post today, the IPA is an incredibly clever and forward looking approach. I’m proud of my friends at Twitter for providing this leadership and I encourage entrepreneurs and investors to understand the IPA and consider applying it to their patent approached.

On the immigration reform front, today is the second to last day of the March for Innovation. Go to the March for Innovation page to tell your Senators how important this issue is and read what a bunch of tech leaders are saying on the Mashable March for Innovation page. If you want just my thoughts, you can go read them at Broken Innovation Shutters Innovation.

Feb 24 2010

StartUp Visa Act Introduced By Senators Kerry and Lugar

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.

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!

Jul 11 2017

America Is Pushing Entrepreneurship To Other Countries

Yesterday, the White House announced it was delaying and likely eliminating the International Entrepreneur Rule. This rule is the closest we’ve come to a Startup Visa, something I’ve been working on with numerous other people since 2009. Several failed bills in Congress, a failed bipartisan Senate comprehensive immigration reform bill, and an Executive Order later, and we still have nothing.

I’m disappointed but not surprised. Steve Case says it really well in his article America Will Fall Behind Without Immigrant Entrepreneurs. I won’t repeat his words here because I agree 100% with them. I encourage you to go read his post if this is a topic you care about.

If you just want Steve’s punch line, it follows:

“The data is clear: immigrant entrepreneurs are job makers, not job takers. And today, we just pushed them to create jobs somewhere else.”

Jeff Farrah of The National Venture Capital Association wrote a thoughtful post titled An Unforced Error for Job Creation. It explains what the International Entrepreneurship Rule is and why delaying and rescinding it is at fundamental odds with a number of goals of the Trump Administration. Jeff’s article ends with a clear message.

“Finally, rescinding the rule is at odds with the administration’s goal of advancing emerging technology. Last month, top VCs joined President Trump at the White House to discuss how to bring to life next-generation technology. What was one of the key recommendations from venture leaders? Retain the International Entrepreneur Rule so the best technology is created and developed here rather than overseas. Today’s action is 180 degrees from the recommendation of successful startup leaders.

The administration’s move is certainly a setback, but it’s far from the end of the road. NVCA will continue to be the leading voice in Washington for immigrant entrepreneurship. We’ll continue to advocate that the Trump Administration reverse course and allow the International Entrepreneur Rule to take effect. Only then will the United States realize the full benefit of immigrant entrepreneurs to our nation.”

While I agree that it’s a setback, in the eight years since a group of us started advocating for a startup visa, entrepreneurship has taken off around the world. A number of other countries now have startup visas modeled after the original US startup visa idea. As entrepreneurship is democratizing the world, the US has exported a great idea for attracting entrepreneurs to one’s country, while denying the US’s ability to do this for itself.

That’s unfortunate and disappointing for the US, but great for the rest of the world.

Apr 16 2015

Announcing the Global EIR Coalition

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.

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.