Silicon Valley has long been lauded as a hot bed for entrepreneurs with its enduring ecosystem of angel investors, venture capitalists and ever ready advisors and incubators. Underscoring these players in the ecosystem is a set of diverse people with tons of raw talent and passion for innovation. This combination of ideas, talent and capital has positioned Silicon Valley in the fore front of technological advancement.

A less talked about fact is where is talent comes from.  A study by Wadhwa et al from Duke University concluded that 52% of startup founders in the USA were immigrants, and that immigrant-founded companies created over 450,000 jobs in 2005. The paper continues to describe how the long and complicated visa and residency process has begun to create a reverse brain drain. Engineers and entrepreneurs frustrated with this “immigration limbo” are returning back to their home countries (or to other immigrant friendly nations such as Singapore which provides $4 for every $1 an entrepreneur raises) to launch their ventures with significant success. For example, SnapDeal, founded by former U.S. resident Kunal Bahl, is fast becoming a high-tech powerhouse in India. The rub is he wanted to stay in the U.S. and build a company here, but visa issues forced him to leave and start SnapDeal in his native country. Today, four hundred employees later and on target for annual revenues of $ 100M, he is ready to take on Groupon.

While international markets are rapidly catching up and competing to become the next Silicon Valley, many are convinced that Silicon Valley offers distinct advantages in terms of capital and human resources, legal and business environment, networking and startup exit opportunities, and culture that at least in the interim is impossible to replicate. A team of investors led by PayPal founder and Facebook early investor Peter Thiel have come up with an innovative solution called Blueseed (http://blueseed.co/). Blueseed plans to bring together international entrepreneurs in international waters. The project plans to station a ship 12 nautical miles from the coast of San Francisco, in international waters. The location will allow startup entrepreneurs from anywhere in the world to start or grow their company near Silicon Valley, without the need for a US work visa. The ship will be converted into a co-working and co-living space with the most advanced facilities and connectivity through high-speed Internet access. To help the entrepreneurs leverage the proximity to Silicon Valley Blueseed plans to provide daily transportation to the mainland via ferry boat. Entrepreneurs can travel to the mainland using business or tourist visas which are significantly easier to obtain than work visas. So far, over 1000 entrepreneurs from 60+ countries expressed interest in living on the ship all at an average cost of around $1,600 per person per month. Blueseed plans to help startups that outgrow Blueseed by providing the right resources and contacts to scale on the mainland.

While some may argue, that this endeavor is a way to skirt the existing laws the Blueseed team believes it is creating jobs in two significant ways. Firstly, the ship itself will create jobs such as vessel crew, ferry operators, insurance agents and legal advisors for the entrepreneurs abroad. The Blueseed residents will also frequently travel to the mainland consuming goods and making purchases helping the California economy. Mostly importantly, the startups created on board have the potential to scale into viable business employing thousands of employees. With a launch date of Q4 2013 / Q1 2014, it remains to be seen if Blueseed can replicate and leverage the Silicon Valley ecosystem, however, I laud the efforts of the Blueseed team in coming up with this creative and novel solution.

Sources:

http://blueseed.co/

http://www.kauffman.org/entrepreneurship/foreign-born-entrepreneurs.aspx

http://techcrunch.com/2011/03/06/why-silicon-valley-immigrant-entrepreneurs-are-returning-home/

http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/tech/news/2011-05-10-tech-talents-leave-silicon-valley_n.htm

Blueseed Concept Ship

 


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