Friday, March 12, 2010

MassTLC Supports Start-Up Visa Legislation

MassTLC's Board of Trustees voted this week to officially support the Startup Visa Act of 2010, authored by Senator John Kerry and Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana (photo credit StartUpVisa.com). This bill would modify the EB-5 visa program to create a new "EB-6" visa for foreign-born entrepreneurs seeking to start companies here in the United States. This idea originated among venture capitalists in California and Colorado and is supported by venture capitalists from several local firms including: Flybridge Venture Partners, Spark Capital, .406 Ventures, Bessemer Venture Partners, Polaris Venture Partners, SoftBank Capital, and Venrock.

Here's the simple but vitally important premise of the bill: It seeks to keep foreign-born entrepreneurs here in the United States. The bill does this by creating a new visa category for those building startups, so long as the individual has raised $100K from a sponsoring US venture capitalist or angel investor and has raised a total of $250K in equity capital. Entrepreneurs can become permanent residents after two years if their business has created at least five full time jobs in the US and has raised an additional $1mm in investment or achieved $1mm of revenue. See http://www.startupvisa.com/ for more information.

Here's why that's important to our country and state now more than ever.

First, throughout our history we've relied on foreign-born entrepreneurs to help spur economic growth. Nationwide, about a quarter of our technology companies have been founded by immigrants. Here in Massachusetts, some of our most notable tech giants were created by brilliant, visionary immigrants like An Wang of Wang Laboratories, Desh Deshpande of Sycamore Networks, and Ash Dahod, who recently sold Starent Networks to Cisco for nearly three billion dollars.

Second, now more than ever, our foreign-born students can return to their home countries to find opportunity. A recent study found that 52 percent of the Chinese students attending U.S. colleges and universities believed they would find greater opportunities if they returned home after graduation.

With some 445K students currently enrolled at Massachusetts colleges and universities, we naturally have one of the nation's largest pools of foreign-born students, a disproportionate talent asset that, in turn, can create tremendous innovation and wealth in our Commonwealth. We need to retain every one of those students who is willing to strike out on his or her own to start a company and create new jobs and wealth in our Commonwealth.

We believe this tradition of great foreign-born entrepreneurs starting companies and hiring here must be maintained and nurtured if we are to succeed in an increasingly competitive world. As connectivity and talent have become globally available commodities, the barriers that foreign-born entrepreneurs face when starting businesses outside the United States have all but disappeared. To maintain our leadership position, we need the best entrepreneurs -- domestic and foreign-born -- to stay here and build tomorrow's leading technology companies in the Commonwealth.

This is a time of unprecedented technological innovation, as evidenced by the explosion of ubiquitous connectivity; the growth of so-called "big data" storage and analysis; and the transformation of computing from desktops to mobile devices. Such waves of innovation spawn waves of new startups, some of which will create and lead new markets and industries. Massachusetts has a strong legacy, and is today broadly recognized, as a global powerhouse in information technology. According to a recently released study by the UMass Donohue Institute, the IT sector is the second largest employer in the state (178,000 workers), trailing only the health care sector.

MassTLC supports initiatives that contribute to innovation and growth of companies at all stages in the technology sector, from start-up to global enterprise. We believe that a rich and vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem is essential to our economic growth and are working to remove barriers that inhibit company formation and growth in the Commonwealth.

As a community we must continue to initiate and embrace ideas like the Start-Up Visa Act that will position Massachusetts as a leader in the next wave of innovation.

See letter to Senate from Sen. Kerry and Lugar
See letter of support from 150+ VCs
See letter of support from MassTLC

Update: Scott Kirsner weighed in on the issue on March 22, "Is visa policy costing Mass new companies." After citing this and other bolgs, Scott concluding by concluding, "I'm on board. Are you?"

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