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Hi, I’m Brad Feld, a managing director at the Foundry Group who lives in Boulder, Colorado. I invest in software and Internet companies around the US, run marathons and read a lot.

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Startup Visa Stories

Comments (30)

I’m getting three to five Startup Visa stories a week at this point.  A few are straightforward but most are complex and intellectually frightening, including one I read through yesterday that almost caused my head to explode.  When I was in Boston a few weeks ago I met with someone who told me their particular story very passionately and clearly.  He then followed up with a short essay that he asked if I’d post publicly.  While the story is a general one, it is short and sweet and nicely captures the sentiment that I’ve heard so many times since writing The Founders Visa Movement post.

Every night after I’ve checked off the task list for the startup I work on, followed-up with the people I’ve networked with, finished all my school work, I’ll stay up reading documentation on how I can stay in the country I have fallen in love with over the last nine months. I come from a culture in Sydney where my peers will become doctors, bankers and lawyers; where the idea of being a startup founder is correlated with merely being unemployed. Being familiar with the first generation immigrant story of my own parents escaping poverty in Communist China to Australia, where they’ve created wealth and jobs from their small grocery business, I was inspired to adopt my own journey to a foreign country. When I came to the United States, to take an opportunity to do a one year study abroad at Babson College, a school with a premier entrepreneurship program, I was optimistic.

Being in Boston, having visited both Silicon Valley and the Research Triangle, I mourn the fact my visa expires in December, the conclusion of my studies. Why is it so good here? How is it so different to back home? It’s not about the number of venture dollars, or the size of the business plan competitions, it’s not even the size of the market. It’s about an intangible in the ether. It’s about culture. For a first-time, young entrepreneur, environment is so fundamentally key. The couple of web tech, social media, or general startup networking events I go to every week act as shots in the arm. I always come back that much more energetic; that much more inspired. I speak with a serial entrepreneur who has seen the pattern many times before and provides me advice and encourages me to keep fighting. I meet another first-time entrepreneur suffering my pain, sharing that experience is motivating. I come across someone passionate about their vision, that energy is contagious. The startup journey is rarely a straight line and this keeps me going as a first-time entrepreneur.

And I’m one of the lucky ones. Currently I am looking at all options, but because I’m an Australian citizen, I’m most likely to immigrate to Toronto, as it’s the closest city with an entrepreneurial community to Boston. Many of my international peers at Babson, who hustle, who fight, who innovate and create, are forced home every year. Do they go and create wealth and jobs in their home country? This would be unfortunate for America not to capitalize on the investment in education. Worse still, because they no longer are tapped into the unique American culture of risk and creation; are we as a global society just entirely worst off?

As Stephen Colbert might say, “America, we are blowing it.”

  • http://david-noel.com David

    Just came across this quote posted by my friend Jamie Siminoff:

    "But there I was, eating lunch at Saravana Bhavan in Sunnyvale (ahh, the things we endure on our spouses’ birthdays!) when I started noticing the t-shirts from local start-ups and NASDAQ 100 companies that stood out like a dense chain of barren, monochromatic islands among a colorful, undulating sea of saris. I wondered how many of these foreign-born tech-sters would still be here in one year’s time? Three years? Five years? Because in case you haven’t noticed, America is facing a brain drain unlike any in our history."

    Link to the post:
    http://jamessiminoff.com/post/218971126/but-there
    Link to the article:
    http://www.lp2dot0.com/blog/2009/09/founder-visas

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/bfeld Brad Feld

    So painfully true.  Hopefully we have the will to fix this before it’s too late.

    • http://david-noel.com David

      From across the ocean, at least it feels like things are moving. And just after I posted this, Tom Friedman wrote a great Op-Ed, I'm sure you've seen it.

      btw: I subscribed to the reply feed by email but never got an email about your reply, checked spam

  • blue

    Yes, I absolutely agree with that.

  • sam

    so, how will this work? 90% of all people who come to this country on a temporary visa would like to be an entrepreneur some day. Should their visas be extended till that 'some day' ?

    As an immigrant myself, I do think current visa system is broken, but startup visa should have strict guidelines – perhaps, if you get the startup visa, you do not get to work for anyone else except yourself and you have exactly 12 months to start a company. ( Tying it to VC funding or angel funding is a terrible idea – that would lead to pay to get visa scams – just like pay to pitch angels ).

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/vidli vidli

    There is an "intangible in the ether." Culture is almost impossible to define. That's why stories are so important. They give this movement life. They make it real.

    Entrepreneurs! Be heard. You can help. This is about us.

    Here's a good list of 5 easy things you can do to help.

    http://blog.vidli.com/startup-visa-5-ways-you-can

    I'm a big believer in #5. If you have a personal story do up a quick video. Post it to Youtube, tweet it (#startupvisa), etc. We'll aggregate them once their is critical mass.

    Let people know why the Startup Visa (or something like it) helps you create jobs in the US and realize your dreams.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/bfeld Brad Feld

    Hmm – sorry the reply by email feed didn’t work – I’ll check into it.  Yes – Friedman’s op-ed was great – and helpful.

  • http://david-noel.com David

    no worries, thanks!

  • http://david-noel.com David

    update: there it is, came in just now

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/bfeld Brad Feld

    Cool.  The Internets must be slow today because of Twitter.

  • http://david-noel.com David

    someone's clogging the tubes somewhere, probably that guy Fred again ;)

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/lou_paglia lou_paglia

    Still wonder whether it is the entrepreneur leaving to go back to their country is the biggest loss for the US or the same thing happening with people in the sciences who get their PhD's in their respective discipline and doing phenomenal research to just have to go back their countries. This happens every year as well and should very much be part of this conversation.

    Both are big losses for the US and are potentially very correlated.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/bfeld bfeld

    I completely agree.  I’d love to be able to handle everyone that gets a Ph.D. a green card.

  • Aaron

    This post starts up one of those "if I were President" moments.

    If I were, I'd appoint a new Secretary of Homeland Security with these marching orders: fix this godforsaken visa system so that anybody who should get in can get in within 30 days of application. You have six months to get 25% of the way there and one year to accomplish the goal.

    DHS is fricking ridiculous, and it's not just with entrepreneurs. I'm a dad via international adoption and I've seen this over and over and over. (Right…this ridiculous 12 month process is because my 8 month old is a terrorist.)

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  • Vivek Chandrasekhar

    Brad: Great piece ! You ought to hear my story :
    Raised in India. Came to the United States on a student visa to attend graduate school. Obtained a graduate degree in business administration with a concentration in Entrepreneurship from a decent univ. Was instrumental in building North American operations for a Risk Mgmnt systems vendor . Decided to launch a digital media venture ,lined up $200K in first tranche of investment , later figured there is no Visa program for immigrant founders . Left the USA to move to an innovation & entreprenuer friendly country – Singapore processed my employment permits in 2 weeks , moved to Singapore , today I manage a commercialization unit at the Innovation & Technology Transfer Office in a leading university in Singapore and just about to launch the same venture from Singapore on the Entrepreneur visa program . I would bet my life's savings to launch my startup from the USA for the odds of success are the greatest there , if only your country would let me in.

  • Oztralia

    Am I missing something?

    Why wouldn't an Australian just file for an E3 work visa? There is no quota cap, they are easy, cheap and quick to obtain, and the USCIS generally doesn't delve deeply into the ownership or the financials of the company sponsoring the visa. I've had two E3's – one for a VC funded startup and the other for a seed startup that I cofunded – both were approved inside 30 days.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E-3_visa

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/bfeld Brad Feld

      My understanding is that it’s exactly the same problem as the H1-B.  You can’t get it until the company is funded, then the company has to sponsor you. 

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/bfeld Brad Feld

      And it’s interesting that you were able to get on in 30 days for a seed startup that you cofounded.  That would contradict the info I have on the restrictions of this visa.  Since you left this anonymously, would you be willing to contact me directly (brad@feld.com) so that I can learn more about what you did and see if it’s applicable in this situation?

    • http://www.lifeoffbi.com Fan Bi

      that's really motivating, yet somewhat different to the situation i'm currently in. because i'm not a university graduate, i'm actually unable to apply for the e-3. i understand this is a very rare case, but it happens to be my case.

      i can qualify that the advice from immigration attorneys is that indeed once all the prep work is done, it can be approved within 30 days. however it's the prep work that can be time consuming, and requiring a relatively hurdle rate. i'd be very curious as the detail in this. i agree that working for a venture backed startup with a few/ several million in cash makes that hurdle far more approachable. what i understand is that having a founders proportions stake and a first few employees equity stake makes a big difference in eligibility for visa, surprisingly more in favor of employee.

      which brings me to the second situation. i'd be interested as to what stage your startup was that you co-founded when you applied for your e-3. again, i understand the hurdle rate is fairly high, $ of rev, no. of employees, etc. would love to know a little more about your situation(s), would be super useful for an aspiring entrepreneur.

  • Allen

    There are many visa stories in travel agencies. Its very common thing. I want to Emigrate to australia but I am too late due to visa problem.

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    "But there I was, eating lunch at Saravana Bhavan in Sunnyvale (ahh, the things we endure on our spouses’ birthdays!) when I started noticing the t-shirts from local start-ups and NASDAQ 100 companies that stood out like a dense chain of barren, monochromatic islands among a colorful, undulating sea of saris. I wondered how many of these foreign-born tech-sters would still be here in one year’s time? Three years? Five years? Because in case you haven’t noticed, America is facing a brain drain unlike any in our history."

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