I’m extremely excited that Senator Mark Udall (D-CO), the senior senator for Colorado, has signed on as a co-sponsor of The Startup Visa Act of 2010 that was originally proposed by Senators Kerry (D-MA) and Lugar (R-IN). Senator Udall joins his Colorado colleague in the House, Jared Polis (D-CO), who has proposed Startup Visa legislation as part of his EB-5 reform bill.
In addition, our friends at SVB Financial (the parent of Silicon Valley Bank) have also formally endorsed the Startup Visa. My partner Jason Mendelson wrote a post about a roundtable that Silicon Valley Bank hosted for members of “the new Democrat Coalition” which included Jared Polis. Shortly after this meeting, SVB formally endorsed the Startup Visa.
I’m really proud that two of Colorado’s members of Congress are leading the charge on the Startup Visa. I have deep respect for both Mark and Jared, their understanding of the importance of entrepreneurship, and their vision for innovation in our country. I’m also grateful that SVB – which has been an integral part of the entrepreneurial activity throughout the US – for their support as well.
We are working on a few additional major announcements and endorsements in the next sixty days. I’ve received a number of requests for ways to help. At this point, if you are part of an organization that you think would be supportive of the Startup Visa, please drop me an email and let’s talk about ways to get a formal endorsement.
Yesterday I was with yet another non-US entrepreneur who is struggling to get the right visa to stay in the US and build his company here. This entrepreneur happens to be from England and his business partner (and best friend since they were kids) is also English, but managed to get into the US because he fell in love with and married and America a while ago. The business partner lives in Denver so they started the company in Denver a year or so ago.
They are a small company right now with a pretty interesting product and vision. One founder lives in the UK, the other lives in Denver. The UK founder travels to the US when he can get a travel visa, but he’s been careful not to get offsides since he’s been in the visa application process for a while. They’ve spent a bunch of money on legal fees, continue to chew up money on travel from the UK to the US, and have to deal with the uncertainty (both timing and functional) around the visa process.
Along with some others, I’ve been trying to get something called The Startup Visa Act passed in Congress and turned into law. The biggest thing to come out of it for me personally has been a deep understanding of how the process of an idea to bill to law works.
After two years of advocating for this, there is extremely broad support throughout Congress for this concept and it has been written into many of the job creation / startup type bills that are out there. But – nothing has been passed. The White House made some policy changes over the summer which have been somewhat helpful, but are still making their way through the USCIS bureaucracy, which means many of these policy changes are not yet being implemented, or people in the field at USCIS have no idea how to implement them.
In hindsight, I realized I’d made a giant mistake. Rather than call it the “Startup Visa Movement”, we should have called it the “Stealing Jobs From Foreign Countries Act.” I haven’t yet come up with the right acronym for it (SJFFCA doesn’t quite work, but I’m sure some of you out there could acronymize this.) Instead of positioning this as a “Startup Thing” or a “Visa Thing”, we should have just taken the same cynical approach to titling the activity that many in Washington do. I mean, c’mon, how could any red blooded America object to stealing jobs from foreign countries?
Every week I am in contact with at least one foreign entrepreneur who is struggling to stay in the US and build their company here. Over the past year, it’s probably been several hundred which represent thousands of jobs and who knows how much innovative, amazing stuff. Hopefully the new USCIS Entrepreneur in Residence program will help figure out how to make the Startup Visa a reality. Or maybe Congress will finally take some action and get a bill passed. Either way, I know that as every day passes, we are missing a huge opportunity in this country by making it hard for non-US citizens to stay here and build their high growth entrepreneurial companies.
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?
This afternoon in Boulder I’ll be on a panel as part of the White House Startup America Roundtable. If you weren’t invited to the event, there is a web site called Reducing Barriers to Innovation that you can participate in.
Over the past few years, I’ve spent some time thinking about how the government can help entrepreneurship. It started with my role as the co-chairman of the Colorado Governors Innovation Council which was my first involvement in any formal way with any government initiative. More recently, I’ve focused my energy on the Startup Visa movement and the Startup America Partnership.
When I was reviewing the agenda for the Reducing Barriers to Innovation program, the goal of the program was pretty clear:
“The Startup America: Reducing Barriers event is a regional platform that allows federal agencies to hear directly, from entrepreneurs and local leaders like you, how we can achieve our goal of reducing the barriers faced by America’s entrepreneurs. Senior Obama administration officials need input on what changes are needed to build a more supportive environment for entrepreneurship. “
On my run yesterday, I mulled over the big activities that I thought the federal government could do to “build a more supportive environment for entrepreneurship.” I came up with five things that I think are relatively easy to measure over the long run. Following are short thoughts on each of these areas with one specific idea (in italics) that I think would materially impact entrepreneurship in America in a positive way.
Tax Policy: Incent people to invest in startups. While there are several well understood tax policies that could be implemented, the simplest is to provide long term tax breaks for individuals to invest in new startup companies. As with anything tax related, there are endless politics involved and many of the things that actual get rolled out are so obscure that they either never get implemented or are to difficult for investors to understand. Make it simple – eliminate capital gains if an individual (who is an accredited investor) invests equity (i.e. risk of 100% loss of investment) in a private company with less than 100 employees.
Immigration Policy: Make it easy for foreigner entrepreneurs to come to the US, or for foreign students to stay in the US, and start companies. This is the essence of what we’ve been trying to solve with the Startup Visa movement. The new Startup Visa Act of 2011 has plenty of improvements over the 2010 Act (which was introduced but never went anywhere) but still is stuck in Congress. If the White House wants to make a difference here, it should prioritize the Startup Visa separately from “broad immigration reform” and help get it passed since the Startup Visa is much less about immigration and much more about entrepreneurship, innovation, and jobs.
Regulatory Policy: Cut as much paperwork and bureaucracy out of the system. While this one is talked about regularly by the people in government that I know, the regulatory environment just seems to get more and more complicated. The solution so far has seemed to be “hire more people to process more paper faster.” This clearly hasn’t worked – how about taking the opposite approach and cut 20% of all jobs within various government agencies responsible for regulatory activity? I don’t care if you pay the fired people for two years – give them healthy severances and incentives to go work in the private sector. Necessity will drive efficiency.
Investment: Focus investment in university research. Then open source the results. The federal government has been a historically successful investor in innovation and the creation of new technologies, often through funding university research. If you want a good example of this, read Bright Boys. Unfortunately, this has gotten really messed up recently due to our byzantine patent system and the evolving dynamics of university technology licensing organizations. The government should allocate even more money to university research programs, but the results of this research should not be able to be patented and should be free for anyone to license. This would drastically change the technology licensing game by simplifying it and shifting economic incentives aggressively to companies that actually commercialize (or productize) this research, rather than simply claim ownership to the “intellectual property.”
Customer: The federal government is an enormous consumer of products and services. While it claims to want to do business with entrepreneurial companies and so far pays its bills in a predictable manner, it’s a miserable customer to deal with. The procurement process is painful, many entrepreneurial companies have to work through government contractor gatekeepers (who take up to a 30% tax for doing nothing other than being the contracting party), and often the execution and implementation process is a disaster. Unfortunately, I don’t really have a suggestion for how to improve this since there are so many rules and regulations around this – I guess the answer is “see regulatory policy” above.
I’m continuing to think through this and refine my thoughts on it, so as always I’m open to any and all feedback, including “Feld – you are such a knucklehead – that’s a stupid idea and will never work, but try this.” Fire away.
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.
Many of the tech blogs / news blogs that I’m reading are suddenly about deals. financings, IPOs, valuations, and bubbles (or not bubbles). Several years ago, there was a lot more about “how to startup a company”, especially around product, vision, and team. Now a lot of that focus has shifted to deal making and exits.
It was with this backdrop that I read The Lean Startup by Eric Ries over the weekend. If you don’t know Eric, he’s the pioneer of the Lean Startup Movement, building on the great work of one of his mentors, Steve Blank who wrote the seminal book The Four Steps to the Epiphany. Both Eric and Steve have must read blogs and Eric’s new book will join Steve’s as a critical book for any entrepreneur working on a tech startup.
The Lean Startup is focused on the early stages of a company, but apply throughout the lifecycle of any business as all product initiatives, especially new ones, benefit greatly from the Lean Startup approach. We spend a lot of time on this at TechStars and you see a lot of the lean startup principles reflected in the stories in Do More Faster: TechStars Lessons to Accelerate Entrepreneurship. While Eric’s book isn’t out until September, I encourage you to preorder it now and gobble it down when it gets to you.
I’ve been a fan of Eric’s for a number of years ever since I first started reading his blog. We’ve worked closely together on the Startup Visa Movement and I put him on my short list of people who I’d support in any endeavor that was important to him based on his attitude, vision, deep thinking, and great style and approach to things.
As the world becomes fascinated with exits, I’m going to keep focusing on startups because without them, nothing else matters in the entrepreneurial chain. As part of this, I’d like to put together a great bookshelf of “startup books” – books aimed at the startup phase of entrepreneurships.
If you’ve got any favorites, please mention them here and – if I haven’t read them – I’ll go grab them.
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 Movement. One 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.
I’ve been working on the Startup Visa since I first wrote about it 2009 in my post The Founders Visa Movement. After a decade, it’s clear that our federal government has broadly failed us on this front.
In 2015, I announced the Global EIR initiative to try something different. Today, I’m happy to welcome the University of Michigan to the Global EIR network. Applications are now open to become a Global Entrepreneur in Residence at the University of Michigan’s Economic Growth Institution (EGI). Interested applicants can learn more about the program, fill out an application form, and reach out to Millie Chu at Global Detroit.
For founders, this announcement means access to a startup visa, with a long runway, and a path to a green card. Global EIR founders will use their experience as founders to support EGI’s mission of helping other Michigan-based companies develop and execute growth strategies while simultaneously building their startups without worrying about their visa status.
From a broader perspective, the Global EIR program attracts international founders to Michigan. The goal of the Michigan coalition, led by Global Detroit and joined by the William Davidson Foundation, EGI, and Global EIR, is to contribute to the Detroit renaissance and demonstrate how startups are a critical part of economic growth in the 21st century. Thank you in particular to the William Davidson Foundation for their generous support to launch Global EIR in Michigan.
If you’re interested in learning more, I encourage you to look at the detailed information on Global Detroit’s site and apply. They are looking for high-growth international founders primarily in the STEM sector who have a need for an H1B visa and would like to establish their business in southeastern Michigan. Once approved by Global Detroit and EGI, the founder is offered a stipend for working part-time (10-20 hours a week) at the university, along with receiving entrepreneurial guidance and resources to help grow their business.
As of today, Global EIR has helped over 80 founders solve their visa issues. Their companies have raised $450 million and employ nearly 900 people. I’m excited by the progress being made despite frustrating inaction from Washington DC after a decade of conversation about creating a startup visa. Local action by leaders like Global Detroit, EGI, and the William Davidson Foundation is where solutions arise.
Amy and I are proud to be supporting the Global EIR program and the Global EIR Coalition. If you are interested in getting involved and bringing the Global EIR to your state, send me an email and I’ll connect you with the right person.
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.
Sometimes I feel like a conference promoter. It’s worth noting that while I put plenty of events up on this blog, I only post the ones that I’d consider going to. Specifically, I probably get 10 requests to post something for everyone one I do.
Over the past year, I’ve gotten to know Eric Ries through the work we’ve done together on the Startup Visa initiative. If you don’t know of Eric, he’s a software entrepreneur who over the past few years has been developing and evangelizing the idea of the Lean Startup. He’s an extraordinary writer – I gobble up every word that he writes on his blog Lessons Learned.
Eric wrote me the other day about a new conference he’s doing called Startup Lessons Learned in San Francisco on 4/23/10. The overview of the event follows:
Startup Lessons Learned is the first event designed to unite those interested in what it takes to succeed in building a lean startup. The goal for this event is to give practitioners and students of the lean startup methodology the opportunity to hear insights from leaders in embracing and deploying the core principles of the lean startup methodology. The day-long event will feature a mix of panels and talks focused on the key challenges and issues that technical and market-facing people at startups need to understand in order to succeed in building successful lean startups. We have a great lineup of speakers, including Kent Beck, Steve Blank, Sean Ellis, Andrew Chen, Randy Komisar, Hiten Shah, and many others.
While I can’t be there I highly recommend anything that Eric is involved in. He’s given me a discount code of ERIES25 which is good for 25% any ticket if you register for the event. If you are in the bay area on 4/23/10 I encourage you to check it out.