Trying Something New On Immigration In Colorado

I’ve been working on the Startup Visa since I first wrote about it on 9/10/2009 in my post The Founders Visa Movement. While there has periodically been improvement on the margins on the issue, I think our federal government has broadly failed us on this front.

So, I’m going to try something different. Yesterday, CU Boulder announced a new Entrepreneurs in Residence program to be administered by the Silicon Flatirons program. While the program is open to any entrepreneur, including those in the US, we are particularly focused on international entrepreneurs.

Through extensive work with Craig Montuori and leadership from Phil Weiser, the Dean of CU Law and head of Silicon Flatirons, we’ve come up with a neat approach that follows from the work that was done in Massachusetts, led by Jeff Bussgang and others, and originally approved as a major state initiative, only to see its funding pulled back after the recent election cycle.

The program in Colorado follows a similar approach with one major difference. It’s privately funded and doesn’t rely on anything from the state. My wife Amy Batchelor and I are putting up most of the funding for the first year program. It’s a major gift from us and more of me trying to put my money where my mouth is on issues I care about.

In the next 12 months, we’ll have four EIRs as part of the pilot program. They will be employed by CU Boulder for 20 hours per week and will receive a stipend of $25,000 per academic year (which starts in July). We’ll cover the cost of the H1-B visa if necessary, which is easy to acquire because H1-B visas for universities are uncapped.

Importantly, consistent with university policy and applicable law, entrepreneurs in the program will be free to work on their existing entrepreneurial ventures or start a new company.

We have a broad model for engagement in Boulder for new entrepreneurs. Between Techstars, Galvanize, Silicon Flatirons, the Blackstone Entrepreneurs Network, and many other accelerators, there will be significant mentorship opportunities. In the summer time, they’ll be part of Startup Summer (run by Startup Colorado in conjunction with Silicon Flatirons) along with being paired with a new MIT MBA Summer Internship in Boulder that I’m about to roll out (ah – foreshadowing…) And, with our broad #GiveFirst attitude across the startup community, they’ll be welcomed with open arms.

I’ve gotten worn out on the federal level immigration fight. I’m happy to continue to participate in advocacy for change around visas for entrepreneurs, but I’ve decided to focus my energy, and money, on exploring and experimenting with state-oriented solutions.

If you are interested in applying for one of the four EIR slots, just drop me an email and I’ll plug you in.

  • Good idea-totally worn out on the immigration fight at the federal level as well. I still think the best idea is Professor Gary Becker’s. Since there is a supply for immigration and a demand for immigration, use a market to charge for it. We essentially are charging for it right now in both money and time. There is a black market for it in foreign countries.

    I love my country and want to share it with anyone that wants to come here and be productive in any capacity.

  • I love this – will be life-changing for those four folks. Just thinking out loud here about scaling…Feld University offers a 4-year degree in Entrepreneurship, has unlimited access to H1-B visas, brings in promising foreign entrepreneurs/startups. FU generates revenue with IP policy similar to MIT’s Ownership of Intellectual Property guidelines. Has in-house visa/residency/citizenship department to assist with post-grad transition.

  • Matt Kruza

    This is interesting angle, and hopefully will be scalable to other universities. Knowing your attitude around sharing Brad I assume you will be open to helping other universities in terms of briefly sharing some of your insights on the program to perhaps help them do so? I can see many universities in the US being willing to do this, and most specifically I would love to see this done at my alma mater, Ohio State University. There are two people who are no brainers to get you in contact with their and I have pretty decent relationships with them and may reach out to them if you’d be willing to share any basic insights now and going forward. I am sure there are many other readers who can help connect you with other universities. Exciting possibilities.

    • HistoryInAction

      We’re very, very interested in scaling this to other universities.

      The third state after MA and CO will launch relatively soon, and after that, we’re filling up the queue.

      Email me and let’s work together: craig venturepolitics com

      Here are generally the pieces that are needed to launch this program elsewhere:

      –Private pilot funding—An angel of some sort looking to put in seed capital similar to what Amy and Brad have done
      –Local business and political support—We often work with local or state (tech) industry associations
      –University champion—We need someone to operate the program internal to the university and convince university administrators using their own language
      –Startup community support—Gotta benefit the community, so we need to engage groups like the college hackathons and meetup groups·
      –Public financing—In the long term, public funding scales the program, once we’ve established a robust base of political support

    • Yup – just connect us. I’m working on this in another state that is very close to launching (I’ll be one of the funders for that also).

      • Matt Kruza

        Awesome. Will reach out to them and look to connect

  • Bravo, Brad! So glad this is now official and launched. If we can do this across the country, and scale it through public-private partnerships, we don’t have to be held hostage by the inaction in DC.

    • Thanks for your huge leadership on all of this.

    • HistoryInAction

      Yes, thanks, Jeff!

      State #3 should be launched soon, too!

  • Amazing! As a first generation American, I’m thrilled to see real concrete action on this issue. My family and wife spent years and years going through the painful legal immigration process. Attracting pioneers from around the world is what this country is all about and it’s a sad state of affairs when our government moves at the speed of molasses to reform federal policy to welcome foreign-born entrepreneurs. Brad, thanks for showing that there’s no reason to let Congress hold back progress.

  • This is a friggin awesome idea! And hopefully, it will create a bandwagon effect in which other prominent VCs will do the same in their respective communities.

    This move has the potential of having some serious impact in a real way. Furthermore, it exemplifies that Politics is a field that needs to get disrupted in a *big*way — too much bullshit and too little action.

    You’re changing the world man!

  • Munly Leong

    Thanks for sponsoring, apologies for the overly long nature of an initial email I sent over to you early today though if it was overwhelming. Figured it would be better to save time on any back and forth

  • Moe

    Great effort. I guess it’s best to pursue things on your own if you believe in them so strongly, rather than trying to persuade entities like the govt. What happens once a “venture” that started within the university confines, decides to separate itself out from the university and become independent from it?

    • We believe we have a process to transfer the H1-B to the startup company once it is up and running.

      • Moe

        Awesome! Brad – shows you have handled this problem by getting to the bottom of it. Great stuff. As a side note – I think this ‘minor’ detail should be spelt out during marketing of this program.

      • itworks

        Not possible cannot transfer from cap exempt to capped visa category

  • And who says disruptive innovation only happens in tech!!

  • Was just sharing this on our twitter… Fact: H-1B workers create jobs for Americans. RT to debunk myths about H-1B visas! #Freedom2Innovate — I’m not from the USA, but as a startup owner it’s an issue i’m already actively engaged with! Great work Brad.. love your approach.

  • Ali

    This is great. I was wondering though, will they be able to work for other employers on that same H1-b? as far as I know (and I am not a lawyer) you cannot work for other employers except the one that gets you the H1-b visa. So, the question is how are they going to top then 25K to a reasonable leaving salary?

    • HistoryInAction

      That’s correct, though not applicable here.

      It’s permissible to apply for concurrent H-1Bs, as in visas for multiple part time jobs. Initially, the founders will develop their MVPs, but post-funding, they’ll be able to apply for a second, concurrent H-1B—sponsored by their startup and transitively covered by the initial cap exemption—that will allow them to work and draw a salary from their startup.

  • Sid

    There are some requirements around working for your own company on H1B.

    Requirement 1 – You must have an employer-employee relationship with the petitioning U.S. employer.

    In general, a valid employer-employee relationship is determined by whether the U.S. employer may hire, pay, fire, supervise or otherwise control the work of the H-1B worker. In some cases, the sole or majority owner of the petitioning company or organization may be able to establish a valid employer-employee relationship, if the facts show that the petitioning entity has the right to control the beneficiary’s employment.+ How do I demonstrate an employer-employee relationship if I own my own company?

    If you own your company you may be able to demonstrate that an employer-employee relationship exists if the control of your work is exercised by others. For example, if your company has a board of directors, preferred shareholders, investors, or other factors that show your organization has the right to control the terms and conditions of your employment (namely the right to hire, fire, pay, supervise or otherwise control the terms and conditions of your employment), then you may be able to meet this requirement. Some of the evidence you may submit to demonstrate the distinction between your ownership interest and the right to control your employment includes:

    Term Sheet

    Capitalization Table

    Stock purchase Agreement

    Investor rights Agreement

    Voting Agreement

    Organizational documents and operating agreements

  • David Harrison

    This is great. Just thought I’d mention there is a class of visa – the E3 – for Australians only (the result of some free trade agreement a while back). Apparently it is significantly under-utilised; when I got mine there were something like 10,000 places and only 1,500 used – although many more startups seem to be taking advantage of it at the moment.

    Only mention it because it seems massively easier than the H1B process and (so far) doesn’t have the same stigma that bringing over tech workers on H1Bs seems to have.

    • HistoryInAction

      Yep! The Irish have been trying to get included in the E-3 for quite some time now 🙂

      But as amazing as y’all Aussies are, we can’t all be from Straya, yeah?

      But more seriously, Chile and Singapore have the H-1B1 variant, which is often also underutilized.

  • benbuie

    This is a big deal. Nice work Brad. It is one of those things that just makes sense.

  • Canus Maximus

    Swing for the fence, Brad. Hat tip!

  • Simone Brunozzi

    Your generosity is really admirable. I am sure that this initiative, although for now limited in size, will sparkle a healthy debate. Not sure about the outcome, but thanks for giving it a serious try. Well done, Brad.

    • Thanks, and if all it does is spark a healthy debate that moves things forward, that would have been worth it!

  • Eddie Fitzgibbon

    Great to see something like this happening in The U.S.A.. I’m involved with something similar in Ireland and dealing direct with the Irish DoJ, processing the Irish Immigrant Investor programme (IIP). Even though this Country is tiny (pop.: 4.5m) in comparison to your State, never mind Country, coming up with an innovative proposal to a Government programme scares the pants off our wonderful civil servants. I’ve picked a model which suits all concerned and is funded completely by non-EEA, HNWI’s. The HNWI’s get their residency, non-EEA students/recent graduates get their residency and the Gov can show this model creates 1 new job for every 100k invested. Sounds simple and is simple but took me a year and a half to get approved!!! This was mainly geared for the Chinese market but I’ve received a lot of interest from the US, as third level education here is of very high standard and a lot cheaper than most Universities in The US. The non exec Chairman of my company is President of a third level institution and has confirmed a huge increase in International partnerships between Universities here. Wanna explore Brad?? drop me a line……[email protected]

    • I’m not sure I understand how this overlaps / works with the US program we are doing. Can you be precise?

  • Dear Brad Feld:

    Way to go! Thank you for working on this.

    FYI, I’m the founder of a startup headquartered in Boulder, but so far all of my employees are remote telecommuters, including employees in Canada, U.K., and India. I’ve had one major disaster when my U.K. employee came for a visit and was stopped and sent back at the border and put on immigration probation, but aside from that, I’ve managed to avoid immigration issues by telecommuting, so far.