The Startup Visa Organization

I had the privilege of traveling with a bunch of fellow technologists from the Valley to Washington DC a few weeks ago. The purpose was to meet with US government officials on the proposed “Startup/Founder’s Visa” – a visa that would enable entrepreneurs born outside the United States to come here and help create businesses, which would consequently create more jobs in the United States. This trip to DC happened a few weeks back, and I’ve been thinking about writing about it for a while. However, I haven’t been able to find the time to finish my thoughts. It was not till I met an entrepreneur in Austin at SXSW did I really feel the need to push this post through.

I believe in Dave McClure

15721v4-max-250x250A slight tangent off the main topic… I feel the need to help you understand some of the champions behind this movement. Especially that of Dave McClure’s…

As many know, the interaction portion of SXSW is the ultimate event for a tech geek. If you’re involved in technology, you want to go to SXSW. The unfortunate part is that the event has grown ridiculously over the last few years. Apparently SXSW is one of the only tech events that is seeing substantial growth in terms of number of attendees year-over-year. That poses a problem for young and cash-strapped entrepreneurs this day in age. Affording to stay in Austin during SXSW isn’t exactly going to be cost-friendly.

When I was in Austin for SXSW, I met a couple of young entrepreneurs (I haven’t run this post by them, and so I feel it’s appropriate to conceal their names for now). They have a small but fast-growing startup. I was curious to know how these young kids who’re working on a startup that isn’t making money yet, could afford to come to Austin during SXSW. They said Dave McClure helped them – he pulled out his credit card and had them charge their passes (and/or airline tickets, can’t remember now) to his card. As far as I know, this company is trying to get Dave to be an advisor (and maybe an investor) but as of then, Dave wasn’t an investor or an advisor to the startup.

This is unsolicited – Dave would’ve never mentioned this to me. I’ve known one of the kids working on this startup for a little over a year. If he wasn’t comfortable, he wouldn’t have mentioned this to me. This is how much Dave believes in startups and this story warmed my heart. His calling is to help startups.

So he helped a startup – big deal, right? Yes, big deal. The man’s got a family and is involved in at least 19 startups that we know of (if I remember correctly, he worked with over 40 startups last calendar year alone). He helps organize Startup2Startup, a monthly event for entrepreneurs to learn from one another. He helps organize the Geeks on a Plane trips. I stalk follow him on Foursquare – almost every checkin has something to do with meeting a startup somewhere. Dave McClure believes in startups, and I believe in Dave McClure.

There are some key “activists” who are a part of this organization.

Brad Feld

bradSm Brad is an investor based in Boulder, CO. I first met Brad through TechStars, a seed-stage investment program and startup accelerator based in Boulder. From Brad’s blog:

from StartupVisa Momentum

I have no idea how to address the entire immigration issue in the US.  However, I strongly believe that we should make it easy for people to start new entrepreneurial ventures in the US.  As a result, the EB-5 is an interesting visa to consider.  The simple version is that if a foreign national invests up to $1,000,000 in a US company that creates at least 10 jobs, the foreign national can apply for the visa.  This seems backwards to me.  Rather than grant the visa to an investor, let’s grant the visa to the entrepreneur.  If we change the EB-5 so that foreign nationals starting US companies that are backed by qualified US investors can apply for the visa it seems like we can preserve the general construct of the EB-5 while applying it to a more compelling recipient (the entrepreneur).

Other related posts on this topic by Brad:

Manu Kumar

manu_small Manu is an investor based in the Silicon Valley. Manu is an immigrant and has a great story of being a successful entrepreneur turned VC:

from My story and support for the Founders Visa

I have chatted first hand with founders of companies that are from Singapore, Ireland, India and various other countries who have to contend with visa issues. These visa issues often become one of the significant hurdles to pursuing their entrepreneurial dreams here in the United States. I am now a bonafide citizen of the United States and as a US citizen, I feel strongly that the best thing the United States can do is to attract and retain the smartest people from all over the world. Having a Founders Visa would not only encourage the formation of new ventures that would create jobs and prosperity in the United States, but would be one more way for the US to attract and retain top talent from all over the world. PG, Brad and others have already addressed how the vetting and qualification process can work to ensure that the right people are allowed into the US. Modifying the criteria for the EB-5 visa category such that the investment dollars can come from US-based venture capital firms seems to be the most efficient way to make a Founders Visa happen.

Paul Graham

16021v4-max-250x250 Paul is a partner at Y Combinator, a seed stage venture fund. Paul’s probably been one of the few people who has been vocal about this initiative from a very early time.

from The Founder Visa

Letting just 10,000 startup founders into the country each year could have a visible effect on the economy. If we assume 4 people per startup, which is probably an overestimate, that’s 2500 new companies. Each year. They wouldn’t all grow as big as Google, but out of 2500 some would come close.

Eric Reis

46998v1-max-250x250 Eric is another strong proponent of the Startup Visa movement and helped lead our trip to DC.

Fred Wilson

11119v1-max-250x250 Fred Wilson is a popular VC and a prolific blogger.

from Startup Visas

His risk taking and the innovations of him and his partners and team members are creating a business in the US and creating jobs and wealth that will largely stay in the US. And he cannot even get into our country right now.

This is nuts. I’ve got an issue with our immigration policies generally, but specifically we should modify our rules around Visas for founders and key team members of startups that are at least partially based in the US, particularly if they have been well financed by angels and VCs.

Other related posts on this topic by Fred:

Vivek Wadhwa

61221v1-max-250x250 Vivek is also a prolific blogger and has insightful posts about entrepreneurship.

from The Startup Visa And Why The Xenophobes Need To Go Back Into Their Caves

After all, this visa is about creating American jobs and moving innovation here which would otherwise happen in other countries. We can boost the economy without any cost to taxpayers. It’s not about admitting H-1B visa holders who sometimes make Americans compete for high-paying jobs, but bringing in entrepreneurs who expand the pie for everyone. Not only do the Democrats support this, but so do the Republicans (their thought leader, Newt Gingrich blogged about my previous TechCrunch post on immigration and his staff told me that he was a supporter of the startup visa). So this seems like a no-brainer.

News Articles

The movement has been all on the news wires. Here are a couple of recent pertinent posts:

Current State of Affairs

kerry-lugar On February 24, 2010, Senators John Kerry (D-MA) & Richard Lugar (R-IN) introduced The Startup Visa Act in Washington. The full text of the proposed legislation is here. This follows US Representative Jared Polis (D, CO-2), who has introduced a similar bill as part of comprehensive immigration reform in the House – H.R. 4259, the Employment Benefit Act of 2009. Later, HR 4259 was included in the overall House Comprehensive Immigration Reform Bill.

I’m told that it will take a monumental effort for a bill to become a law. There are bigger fish to fry, understandably so. But we’re much further along than we could’ve ever imagined being at this stage.

The White House is…

As I’d mentioned earlier in what’s turning out to be an epic blog post, McClure, Ries and Feld helped us get to DC and meet with senior leaders of several government entities such as the USCIS, Department of Commerce, Small Business Administration and many others. It was bad-ass enough that we actually met these folks in the White House. What was even more surprising to me was how they met with us…

IMAG0019

 IMAG0021

Fundamentally, everyone we spoke with, got it. This is an open and young government. Maybe more open than any other government out there (not that I have a lot of experience). From the get-go we were greeted by extremely friendly people and everyone took the time to meet us and know about each of us. It was very obvious that some of these were touchy areas that they couldn’t dive into more detail about. But it was so amazingly refreshing to hear directly from people working on some of the hottest areas that are in dire need of reform. Some of us noticed that a majority of the representatives we spoke with were probably in their mid to late 30s. I’m purposefully avoiding going into more detail as we were specifically asked to keep some things off the record and I want to respect their ask.

At some point during the conversation, one of the representatives leading the discussion told us about how we’ll soon read about this being one of the White House’s efforts to be more open and receptive to change (parapharsing) (which made me wonder – were they doing this and being so nice and receptive because they had to? Only time will tell…) But I want to believe that this is a sign that the government finally gets it – that when true change is needed, the government will ensure this law will go into effect without ‘baggage’ holding it back.

@ai

[Photo Credits: Crunchbase.com, StartupVisa.com]

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