Friday, April 4, 2014

Nothing can stop an entrepreneur. Definitely not a visa.

Immigration reform is an election time topic for most of the country (and then on the back-burner until next election), but it’s a different story in Silicon Valley where to-be entrepreneurs on visa are continuously held back because of the immigration policy.  Moreover, our immigration problem is distinct from the rest of the country - our problem is specific to highly qualified engineering and business talent. Even deeper lies the challenge for entrepreneurs on visa. A small section of the immigration reform talks about Startup Visa, and it often gets overlooked in larger conversations in DC.

Despite the willingness to endure the financial, mental, social and physical hardships of being a startup founder, an entrepreneur on visa just cannot leave his / her job and start the company that could be the next big thing. Consequently, not only are we missing out on some incredible technology, but also missing on the opportunity to create more jobs. For locals and immigrants. This has been a big reason why entrepreneurs are going back to their home countries and starting businesses (As highlighted in research by Prof Vivek Wadhwa and Neesha Bapat); and USA, the most entrepreneurial country on Earth, is missing out on all that could be. This post by the Kauffman Foundation sums up the contributions of immigrant entrepreneurs and the impact they can make:

Imagine the magnitude of innovation we could see if there were no barricades on the numerous people who could not become founders, only because they were dependent on a visa. 100s of extremely smart people with brilliant ideas, track record of success and a drive to build a cutting edge product can’t do it.  Because they were born in a foreign country and are in US on a visa.

As entrepreneurs, we see an opportunity in every problem. As Steve Case recently said "Immigration isn't a problem to solve, it's an opportunity to seize." And I see an opportunity in this “founder on visa” problem. An opportunity that is not dependent on legislation, but can work with the current policy! Here’s a basic framework of a solution to seize this opportunity...

An incubator that hires founding teams, including founders on visa, allowing them to quit their jobs and innovate. Effectively, a new form of seed investing, solving a policy problem with a for-profit solution. Yes, there are laws to be complied with and operational elements to be taken care of, but that's much less complex than solving the technology problems entrepreneurs are solving, and definitely worth the effort for the amount of innovation it can bring. 

Turn ideas into products and companies by supporting innovators. Eliminate visa-dependency as the reason for not starting a company.

Structure & Funding
For-profit corporation funded by individuals and entities who desire to fuel innovation. Management and advisory team will include tech industry executives, past and current entrepreneurs, and investors.  Reasonable returns from investments in startups incubated for sustainable future.

Innovators / Entrepreneurs
Hire technology entrepreneurs (let’s call them “Innovators”) with a variety of complementing expertise and backgrounds who want to innovate. They can bring their own ideas (“projects”) or join an existing Project. The drive to build fascinating technology products is a must-have. Innovators will include exceptionally talented and entrepreneurial engineers, scientists, product managers, sales, marketing and business folks.

Hiring & immigration policies
Same hiring practices as followed by any company, with focus on recruiting top innovators.
- Pay innovators at prevailing founder wages.
- Innovators may be US citizens, permanent residents or on a work visa.
- Sponsor / take over the visa for innovators in the USA, complying with all applicable immigration laws in force. 

Since the innovators are already employed in the US and have a visa before coming to the incubator, no new class of visa is needed and no change in visa quota is required (great if these things happen, but we don’t have the time to wait for DC to move).

Each product / startup will be considered a “Project” and Innovators will work on their respective Projects, with accountability to perform, just like in any other startup job. This will ensure that Projects stay on track and progress to the desired milestones.  Innovators will also provide peer-to-peer help to other Innovators, based on skills / experience match. This will create a mutually beneficial success-environment.

When a project matures and is ready to be pursued on its own (read “funded”), the project will be separated into a company of its own, with ownership equity held by the innovators who worked on it and become the founders of this company, and by the incubator (a certain % of equity).  IP created on the Project will transfer to the resulting company.

The above approach will allow entrepreneurs to quit their jobs and pursue their dreams, without worrying about visa status. This would unfurl a whole new wave of innovation by entrepreneurs who were otherwise locked into their jobs at larger companies (nothing against large companies… every startup aspires to be a large company some day).

We would love to hear your thoughts, feedback, questions or suggestions. If someone has an alternative solution, we would love to know about it and help in any way we can. If you would like to join us in making this vision a reality, just send us a note!


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