SAN FRANCISCO: A lot has been said, discussed and written about flawed US immigration policies and the consequent pains inflicted upon entrepreneurs and the US economy. Now, finally, a Silicon Valley start-up — whose favourite word is “visafree” — has decided to do something about it.
Providing a solution is technology incubator Blueseed, which will be based on a ship about 19 km off the Californian coast, near Half Moon Bay. It will host over 1,000 entrepreneurs who can pay rent to live and work on the ship, network, hold meetings, attend conferences, and be just a 45-minute ferry ride away from the magic of Silicon Valley.
Because it is located in international waters, Blueseed will allow entrepreneurs to earn money on board, even if the specific US visa they are on does not permit them to do so.
For instance, if an entrepreneur enters the US on a business visa, he can hold business meetings, attend conferences, exhibit at expos, make deals, etc. But he cannot ‘earn’ money in the US. Or if someone enters the US on a tourist visa, he can visit friends and family, go sightseeing and even get medical treatment, but he cannot indulge in any business-like activity, leave alone earn money.
What is critical though is that the person has a valid visa to enter the US mainland, before he is ferried off to the freedom promised by Blueseed. This naturally extends to the hundreds of thousands of immigrants who are already in the US on student visas (such as the F-1) and spouse visas (such as the H-4) and might be ineligible to earn money or start companies.
Blueseed is a clever idea and already has backers such as Silicon Valley heavyweight Peter Thiel — a venture capitalist, PayPal cofounder and early investor in Facebook. Blueseed claims 60 start-ups have already agreed to come on board, of which 10% are from India.
Interestingly, about 25% are US start-ups, which might not face any immigration troubles, but want to benefit from the entrepreneurial environment promised by Blueseed. Among the foreign entrepreneurs keen on boarding the Blueseed ship is Florian Cornu — a French businessman based in Singapore, who runs a travel discovery start-up called Flocations.
“As an early adopter, it’s an experience I really want to be a part of. Apart from the fun, Blueseed would also help my start-up with international expansion. Being close to Silicon Valley would help with fund-raising, partnership opportunities and tapping into the Valley’s talent pool,” he says.
Hundreds of thousands of entrepreneurs are stuck in an immigration limbo or are denied visas altogether. Like Krishna Menon (name changed), whose visa to visit the US was denied.
Blueseed offers hope
Menon’s partner Vijay Dhawan (name changed) was forced to go through the business development procedures for their web start-up all by himself. It was not the best decision for their company. But like hundreds of thousands of entrepreneurs suffering at the hands of US immigration policies, the duo had no choice.
Leave alone rolling out the proverbial red carpet, flawed US immigration policies mean that foreign entrepreneurs suffer from visa nightmares. A promising solution was the much-discussed Start-up Visa Bill. But it is yet to become an Act.
Although it is a temporary solution to the larger issue of immigration, Blueseed feels it can help. Currently based in Sunnyvale, Blueseed will launch its first vessel in 2013. It is raising $500,000 in seed funding to help with its R&D and in building business partnerships.
Soon thereafter, Blueseed hopes to raise approximately $20 million from venture capitalists to buy a ship, fit it and take care of operational details.
Immigration involves a great deal of serendipity and even if all of your papers are in order, there are still chances of being sent back home, right from the US airport you have landed at.
Blueseed is working on building relationships in Washington DC with immigration-related government agencies such as the United States Citizen and Immigration Services ( USCIS). If these work out, immigration authorities at US airports would be informed in advance about the arrival of Blueseed entrepreneurs, who could then enter the country almost in quasi-diplomat style, unlike the masses.
15 Dec 2011
US immigration: Silicon Valley start-up Blueseed vows freedom from visa to entrepreneurs
Posted on December 16, 2011