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Dec 5 2012

Startup Visa – One Step Forward, One Step Back

On that same day the White House announced A New Front Door for Immigrant Entrepreneurs President Obama said that he was not supportive of the STEM Jobs Act of 2012. Infuriating.

I’ve been working on making it easy for foreign entrepreneurs to get a visa to start a company in the US since September 2009 when I wrote the post The Founders Visa Movement. This morphed into the Startup Visa Movement and I’ve written extensively about it over the past three years on my blog in the Startup Visa category. While some progress has been made through administrative changes at the USCIS and better education of USCIS and CBP about what an entrepreneur is, we are still falling extraordinarily short of where we could – and should be.

With every success (I got an email from an entrepreneur yesterday who I helped who had just gotten a green card) there is a nightmare, such as the well-known and well-loved Boston entrepreneur who was actually stopped at the border at Logan Airport a few weeks ago, told by CBP that she was lying about her visa, and tossed in jail for several days. A mad scramble among some of the Boston startup community leaders, led by Katie Rae at TechStars, resulted in this entrepreneur “only” being jailed for a few days. Jailed! President Obama should call her personally and apologize and give her a green card on the spot.

Vivek Wadhwa wrote a great summary of the recent decision of President Obama not to support the STEM Jobs Act of 2012 in his Forbes article Why Immigration Reform is Destined to be Another Obamacare. It’s more of the “all or nothing” strategy around immigration I’ve been hearing from the White House since 2009. Obama is a strong proponent of immigration reform, but he wants comprehensive immigration reform, rather than incrementally improving things. There are so many easy fixes that are non-partisan, such as the STEM Jobs Act, and it’s crazy that there isn’t a leadership focus on fixing the straightforward ones now, especially those that impact job creation, innovation, and entrepreneurship.

I’m extremely bummed out by President Obama’s position on this. Several months ago I had a conversation with one of my friends in the White House who implored me to support the STEM Jobs Act and was enthusiastic about the idea of little wins on this front. Clearly his perspective diverged from the broader White House strategy, which I fear will result in nothing done on this front.

In addition to Vivek Wadhwa’s recent article, he’s written an excellent book called The Immigrant Exodus: Why America Is Losing the Global Race to Capture Entrepreneurial Talent. I’ll be writing a longer post about it shortly but if this is a topic that you care about his book is a critical one to read.

For all the foreign entrepreneurs who can’t get appropriate visas to start their companies in the US, and to all of the amazing foreign entrepreneurs who put up with our idiocy and nonsense as they continue to struggle through the US immigration process, deal with visa hell, and get accused of lying by CBP, I humbly apologize to you. It’s embarrassing, and stupid, that as a country, especially one built on the the premise of “liberty and justice for all”, can’t get our act together on this front.

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Dec 23 2009

Startup Visa End of Year Update

As we finish up the year, I’m really pleased with the progress the Startup Visa gang is making.  I started thinking about, writing, and working on this on 9/10/09 when I wrote the post The Founders Visa MovementOne quarter later, we’ve:

  • Put together a core group of entrepreneurs, angels, and VCs who are working on this.
  • Received a tremendous amount of positive feedback from entrepreneurs and investors who have struggled with this issue.
  • Verified that this is a real issue, there is no current solution under the existing visa system, and even though there are plenty of immigration lawyers who say “no problem, I can get around this”, there aren’t clean solutions.
  • Engaged with a number of Congressmen in both the house and the senate.
  • Found a member of the house who is sponsoring a bill addressing the issue.
  • Talking to several folks on the senate side to find a sponsor.
  • Codified a first clean draft of language around this.
  • Build lots of grassroots support and enthusiasm.
  • Gotten plenty of discussion going in the blogosphere and mainstream media.

Shortly after I started talking to people in Congress about this it became clear that this wouldn’t be a 2009 legislative issue given the massive financial and health care reform issues being worked on in Congress.  So – we decided to use Q409 to “figure this out” with a goal of launching aggressively in Q110 with the goal of having this be part of whatever immigration reform activity happens next year, especially in the context of a renewed push for job creation activity in the US.

In addition to the Startup Visa OpEd that Paul Kedrosky and I wrote and published in the Wall Street Journal, several other high profile thinkers have written great essays on this issue.

The Startup Visa And Why The Xenophobes Need To Go Back Into Their Caves: Vivek Wadhwa (Visiting Scholar at UC-Berkeley, Senior Research Associate at Harvard Law School and Director of Research at the Center for Entrepreneurship and Research Commercialization at Duke University) wrote a great piece in TechCrunch.

Immigrant Scientists Create Jobs and Win Nobels: Susan Hockfield (MIT President) wrote a WSJ OpEd that – while not talking directly about the Startup Visa – clearly supports that overall effort and also reinforces my belief that any graduate with an advanced degree from a US college or university should get a green card stapled to his diploma.

While there are plenty of other articles in the mainstream media swirling around, ones in CNN Money such as Want to create jobs?  Import entrepreneurs does a good job of laying it all out.

Many of you have asked how you can get involved.  Look for a variety of easy ways to do this in Q1.  And – a huge thank you for everyone out there that has helped in any way so far.  In the mean time, feel free to add to the Wikipedia page of American Startups with Immigrant Founders.

Dec 6 2011

Startup Summer In Boulder

If your company is interested in joining Startup Summer, please email me and I’ll get you plugged in.

Startup Summer, a new program from Startup Colorado, will bring hard working, passionate college-age entrepreneurs to Boulder to work as summer interns for startup companies. We are looking for a total of 30 Boulder-based early-stage companies to participate as we are going to try to accomodate 30 students from around Colorado in the first year.

In exchange for free housing in CU-Boulder campus dorms, Startup Summer interns will spend the summer in Boulder interning with companies, learning about the world of startups, and building entrepreneurial business skills. We will hold a “meet the applicants” Startup Summer Speed Dating Night in the spring of 2012. At Speed Dating Night, a pre-screened pool of intern applicants will attend an open networking event in which companies will meet the various applicants in rounds of short interviews. Afterwards, Startup Summer coordinators will match company preferences with applicant preferences to match interns with companies.

Throughout the summer, interns will work during the day at the company that hires them; in the evenings, they will attend various dinners, events, and workshops. At the end of the summer interns will go through a TechStars-like Pitch Night during which any company can come hear their pitch about “what I learned about starting a business” which has the subtext of “why you should hire me as your next employee.”

We are looking for the first 25 startup companies who will commit the following to the entrepreneur interns:

  1. A decent summer wage (suggest between $10-$15/hr);
  2. An intern position with a supervisor/manager who will commit to constructing a meaningful position and spending at least an hour per week supervising;
  3. At least an hour every other week, but preferably every week, with you and the other company founders talking about the entrepreneurial experience, the lessons you’ve learned and answering the questions they’ll be bringing from their evening activities;
  4. Ideally a few hours during the summer with the person accountable for fundraising to teach the experiences of fundraising; and
  5. Ideally attendance at the summer-ending Pitch Night with a few words of introduction of the intern.

In return, Startup Summer will commit to you:

  1. The selection of the most passionate young would-be entrepreneurs in Colorado
  2. Transportation to Boulder and housing
  3. Immersive intern education at night with sessions including “entrepreneurs unplugged”, “topic of the week”, “peer sharing”, “company field trip” and a variety of other evening sessions.
  4. A process whereby you have input on the selection of your intern

Startup Summer is organized and run by Tim Enwall, David Hose, and David Mangum; it is one of multiple projects being developed by Startup Colorado, an initiative to spur new company creation and entrepreneurial spirit throughout the Colorado’s Front Range. Startup Summer has hired a CU student, Eugene Wan, as a Program Coordinator to assist with logistics relevant to applicant recruitment, initial application processing (vetting applicants for Speed Dating Night), intern move-in, and intern activities during the summer. Although certain skill sets like computer programming might be particularly valuable, Startup Summer is designed to be open to any student with demonstrated passion, dependability, and learning ability.

Companies such as Tendril, SendGrid, Rally, Integrate, Gnip, Orbotix, Trada, Next Big Sound, LinkSmart, Standing Cloud, Sympoz, NewsGator, and TechStars have already committed so you’ll be in good company.

If your company is interested in joining Startup Summer, please email me and I’ll get you plugged in.

Nov 6 2012

Startup CEO – New Book in the Startup Revolution Series

Matt Blumberg, the CEO of Return Path, has just put up a post about the new book he’s working on called Startup CEO: A Field Guide to Building and Running Your Company. I’m super excited that this is going to be the fifth book in the Startup Revolution series and the first book not co-written by me.

Matt is an extraordinary CEO who I’ve had the pleasure to work with for a dozen years. We’ve learned a lot from each other and his blog at Only Once (as in – you can only be a first time CEO once, and Matt’s been one for a dozen years) should be reading for any and every CEO. Matt’s now putting effort into creating a definitive book for any CEO – first time or otherwise – of a high growth company.

When I started working on the Startup Revolution books, my goal was to expand it beyond my own writing with a goal of creating a large body of work that had relevance to a wide range of entrepreneurs and durability over the next few decades. Matt’s book is the first of what I hope to be a number of new additions to the series.

The five books in the series are now:

Look for a few more additions to the series soon. Matt – welcome aboard the Startup Revolution!

Oct 21 2009

Startup Visa Stories

I’m getting three to five Startup Visa stories a week at this point.  A few are straightforward but most are complex and intellectually frightening, including one I read through yesterday that almost caused my head to explode.  When I was in Boston a few weeks ago I met with someone who told me their particular story very passionately and clearly.  He then followed up with a short essay that he asked if I’d post publicly.  While the story is a general one, it is short and sweet and nicely captures the sentiment that I’ve heard so many times since writing The Founders Visa Movement post.

Every night after I’ve checked off the task list for the startup I work on, followed-up with the people I’ve networked with, finished all my school work, I’ll stay up reading documentation on how I can stay in the country I have fallen in love with over the last nine months. I come from a culture in Sydney where my peers will become doctors, bankers and lawyers; where the idea of being a startup founder is correlated with merely being unemployed. Being familiar with the first generation immigrant story of my own parents escaping poverty in Communist China to Australia, where they’ve created wealth and jobs from their small grocery business, I was inspired to adopt my own journey to a foreign country. When I came to the United States, to take an opportunity to do a one year study abroad at Babson College, a school with a premier entrepreneurship program, I was optimistic.

Being in Boston, having visited both Silicon Valley and the Research Triangle, I mourn the fact my visa expires in December, the conclusion of my studies. Why is it so good here? How is it so different to back home? It’s not about the number of venture dollars, or the size of the business plan competitions, it’s not even the size of the market. It’s about an intangible in the ether. It’s about culture. For a first-time, young entrepreneur, environment is so fundamentally key. The couple of web tech, social media, or general startup networking events I go to every week act as shots in the arm. I always come back that much more energetic; that much more inspired. I speak with a serial entrepreneur who has seen the pattern many times before and provides me advice and encourages me to keep fighting. I meet another first-time entrepreneur suffering my pain, sharing that experience is motivating. I come across someone passionate about their vision, that energy is contagious. The startup journey is rarely a straight line and this keeps me going as a first-time entrepreneur.

And I’m one of the lucky ones. Currently I am looking at all options, but because I’m an Australian citizen, I’m most likely to immigrate to Toronto, as it’s the closest city with an entrepreneurial community to Boston. Many of my international peers at Babson, who hustle, who fight, who innovate and create, are forced home every year. Do they go and create wealth and jobs in their home country? This would be unfortunate for America not to capitalize on the investment in education. Worse still, because they no longer are tapped into the unique American culture of risk and creation; are we as a global society just entirely worst off?

As Stephen Colbert might say, “America, we are blowing it.”

Feb 1 2011

Startup America Partnership

On Monday I was at the White House to help announce the Startup America Partnership. As part of this, TechStars announced the TechStars Network, an affiliation of TechStars-like programs across the country along with our commitment to the Startup America Partnership to help 5000 experienced mentors work with 6000 entrepreneurs to create 25,000 new jobs by 2015. For an awesome description of Startup America, please read Aneesh Chopra’s (the United States CTO) post on TechCrunch titled Startup America: A Campaign To Celebrate, Inspire And Accelerate Entrepreneurship. By the way, I think it is awesomely cool that the CTO of the United States blogs on TechCrunch!

Over the past eighteen months I’ve gotten to know a number of people in the executive brand of our government, especially at the Office of Science and Technology Policy and the National Economic Council. In general, I don’t engage that much with government, but I have with issues that I care deeply about like the Startup Visa and entrepreneurship. In this case I’ve been blown away by the intelligence, thoughtfulness, tirelessness, and capability of folks in OSTP and the NEC. When I was first involved in discussions around entrepreneurship that later evolved into the Startup America Partnership, I was originally skeptical about what I was hearing. Nine months, and a bunch of discussions later, I think the White House has approached Startup America in a very smart and powerful way and I believe that everyone involved has a major clue about entrepreneurship, the importance of it to our economy and our country in general, and how to help celebrate, inspire, and accelerate entrepreneurship across America.

When I was first approached to talk about how the White House could help entrepreneurs, I focused most of my comments on trying to help the folks I talked to understand the difference between high growth entrepreneurs and small business people. They are both important to our economy, but have very different needs and until recently I didn’t feel like the White House, or other branches of government, really understood the difference between the two.

Fortunately, the White House listened to a number of smart people, including the amazing folks at the Kauffman Foundation. I worked closely with the Kauffman Foundation in the mid-to-late 1990’s both through their partnership with the Young Entrepreneurs Organization as well as being an “entrepreneur-in-residence” (a fancy word for “one day a month consultant”) where I worked with a team on better understanding high growth entrepreneurs. I continued to spend time with the Kauffman Foundation over the past decade, but lost touch with many of the people I’d worked with as the organization evolved. In the past few years, under the leadership of Carl Schramm, the Kauffman Foundation has reasserted itself as the most significant organization thinking about, researching, and advocating for entrepreneurship as part of its mission to accelerate entrepreneurship in America. I’ve gotten to see them in action first hand through work that I’ve done with Lesa Mitchell, Paul Kedrosky, and Bo Fishback and I can confidently say that Mr. K’s legacy is in great hands.

Along with Kauffman, Steve Case, the co-founder of AOL, his wife Jean and the Case Foundation, has been working hard to help the White House craft a public / private partnership to shine a bright light on entrepreneurship and help accelerate it across the country. I’ve never worked closely with Steve but have always admired him from afar and love the leadership team of Steve and Carl heading up the Startup America Partnership.

As David Cohen and I talked about the idea for the TechStars Network over the past few quarters, it became obvious to us that it would be a natural part of the Startup America Partnership as we both strongly believe that mentorship is a core attribute of growing entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship. We both believe that TechStars like programs can existing in over 100 cities in the US, covering many different industry segments (not just software and Internet), and the value of coordinating the mentor, entrepreneur, and investor activity across the entire country is extremely powerful. We had already identified over 100 different accelerator programs in the US that were modeled after TechStars and had helped a number them get started, so as we put together the original members of the TechStars Network, we were psyched that 16 high quality accelerator programs joined us at launch.

It’s important to realize that each of the TechStars Network member programs will be locally owned and operated. We strongly believe in the power of a network model in the construct of expanding entrepreneurship, not a hierarchical centrally owned and controlled one. We think entrepreneurship across the US is not a zero-sum game and we want to play our part in expanding it. TechStars will still run programs that it owns and operates in Boulder, New York, Boston, and Seattle, but we’ll continue to aggressively expand the overall network across the US as well as the world.

I’m extremely excited to play my small part in the Startup America Partnership. For those of you out there questioning how government and entrepreneurs intersect, I encourage you to give the Startup America Partnership a chance. Start by looking at the 27 private organization commitments to the partnership. And, if you want to engage in any way, just email me and I’ll try to figure out how to get you plugged in.

Jul 9 2013

Pre-Order Startup CEO, The Newest Startup Revolution Book

Pre-orders for the new book Startup CEO: A Field Guide to Scaling Up Your Business by Matt Blumberg, CEO of Return Path, are available now on Amazon. Matt, who writes the awesome blog Only Once (which stands for “you can only be a first time CEO once”) has put a herculean effort into writing an amazing book while running a very large company.

This is the latest book in the Startup Revolution series of books that include Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City, Startup Life: Surviving and Thriving in a Relationship with an Entrepreneur, and Venture Deals: Be Smarter Than Your Lawyer and Venture Capitalist.

I’ve worked with Matt since 2001 when I joined Fred Wilson and Greg Sands on the board of Return Path. At the time I was an investor in a company called Veripost that was a direct competitor with Return Path. Fred was an investor in Return Path. Each company was about 20 people. The founders knew each other well and were in a brutal competition in a market that didn’t yet exist. They decided they wanted to join forces, Fred and I cut a deal over the phone in 5 minutes, and Greg Sands (at Sutter Hill at the time) led a financing round that set a price for the combined company.

Twelve years later Matt is still Return Path’s CEO. George Bilbrey, one of the Veripost founders, is the President. They are incredible partners and Matt is still a first time CEO, but now running a 400 person company that dominates its market.

The book is broken up into five parts:

  • Part I: Storytelling
  • Part II: Building the Company’s Human Capital
  • Part III: Execution
  • Part IV: Building and Leading a Board of Directors
  • Part V: Managing Yourself So You Can Manage Others

Matt  has the entire outline of Startup CEO up on his blog. As with all books in the Startup Revolution series, it combines practical experience with advice with stories with commentary from other experts.

I think Startup CEO is going to be a must read for any CEO. Do Matt a solid and go pre-order it today.

Aug 8 2012

Launching Startup Revolution

Many of you know that I’ve been working on several new books this summer. I’m completely obsessed with the radical transformation of our society from a hierarchy to a network, the integration of the machines into every aspect of our lives, and the radical transformation of the way – as humans and organizations – we work. Hopefully this shows through in what we invest in (for example, most recently Full Contact and Modular Robotics).

As a result of this obsession, I’m launching Startup Revolution, starting now.

I view Startup Revolution as a movement. Since my partners and I started Foundry Group in 2007 we’ve had an incredible experience working with a hundreds of entrepreneurs across the US in the 50 or so companies we’ve directly funded. We co-founded TechStars and have gotten to work with thousands of amazing entrepreneurs and mentors, many of whom are also incredible entrepreneurs. We’ve written a few books, including Do More Faster and Venture Deals and met many more entrepreneurs through them. We’ve invested in other VC funds with our own money (and subsequently met even more entrepreneurs) and evangelized tirelessly about startups around the US, working with organizations like the Startup America Partnership.

Lots of community has developed around startups, what I’ve learned, and what I think at the Feld Thoughts site, but I want to create a community that is broader. My partners and I continually learn all kinds of things about startups. We learn by doing – through our investing at Foundry Group. But we also learn by teaching – through writing (books and blogs), talking to entrepreneurs continually about what we are thinking, and evangelizing the power of startups and entrepreneurship as widely as we can. And all of this makes us better investors.

The Startup Revolution movement is another step in this. Like any new thing, I’m launching early and iterating often. The next few moves are the Startup Revolution site (and subsites for each book – Startup Communities, Startup Life, Startup Boards, and Startup Metrics). Leave anything you want me to add, change, or think about in the comments.

Finally, pre-orders for Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City and Startup Life: Surviving and Thriving in a Relationship with an Entrepreneur are now up on Amazon.

The Startup Revolution is well underway. Don’t be left behind.

Feb 15 2012

Startup Summer Colorado

One of the fun projects I am involved with is Startup Colorado, a community focused initiative to spur new company creation in Colorado.  One of Startup Colorado’s most promising projects is Startup Summer.

Startup Summer is an immersive summer program offering the opportunity to work as a paid intern for a Boulder/Denver startup and attend a variety of evening events, including a weekly seminar series on entrepreneurship.  We are looking for students at any four-year college or university in Colorado who are aspiring entrepreneurs and want to participate in a program that could change their lives.  If you know a Colorado college student who would want to participate, tell them to apply to Startup Summer:

The idea is simple: work as an intern by day for a great startup, then participate in a variety of evening events that will give you great exposure to the basics of entrepreneurship, including substantive classes on issues that entrepreneurs face, as well as various social events.  As an added layer of fun and relationship building, we’re expecting Startup Summer interns to live together in CU housing in Boulder.

Startup Summer offers a great experience, including:

  • A paid ten-week internship with a Boulder/Denver startup; the internship will include frequent interaction with the company founders and management team
  • The Startup Summer Seminar Series featuring prominent entrepreneurs teaching classes on entrepreneurship
  • A weekly social event with business leaders in the community
  • A community with your peers in Startup Summer through group housing in Boulder
  • An end-of-summer competition with an opportunity to win mentorship from some of Boulder’s finest entrepreneurs and investors

I think this program has the potential to open up high growth entrepreneurship to a wider range of Colorado students than has been possible before. If you are a student at any four-year college or university in Colorado, check it out.

Feb 25 2010

Startup Visa Twitter Widget

If you support the Startup Visa and have a blog or a website, put the Startup Visa Twitter Widget up on your site.

And – on March 2nd at 12 noon Pacific / 3 pm Eastern – we are going to do a Tweet Hall for the Startup Visa.  All you need to do is tweet @2gov supporting #startupvisa exactly at Noon Pacific on Tuesday March 2nd.  We’ll collect your Tweets and deliver them during our visit to the White House on March 4th.