In a previous post, I asked readers for suggested topics that the US government needs to know about startups and entrepreneurs, and got some really interesting responses. I've done my best to represent those perspectives in the meetings I've had here over the past two weeks. In my presentation this morning, I emphasized three key areas: reducing the personal cost of failure for entrepreneurs, innovation-friendly legal reforms, and access to the digital means of production (slides from my White House presentation are available at the end of this post).
However, there's one additional issue that has come up throughout the day today. We have a serious structural barrier to entrepreneurship: a glitch in US immigration policy. We can remedy it by creating a special visa for startup founders. The idea is to enable up to 10,000 people per year to enter the United States if they are here to found a company that will employ US citizens. I think the benefits are a no-brainer. Let me quote from Paul Graham's original essay:
The biggest constraint on the number of new startups that get created in the US is not tax policy or employment law or even Sarbanes-Oxley. It's that we won't let the people who want to start them into the country.Brad Feld is working on promoting this idea inside the halls of Congress. Today at Startup2Startup, some additional pieces fell into place. First of all, Dave McClure introduced the idea of modifying an existing immigration program. The EB-5 visa is designed for foreign investors to get a green card if they are willing to bring capital to the US and create at least ten full-time jobs. Unfortunately, this program applies to the investor who holds the capital, and not the entrepreneur who discovers how to put that capital to use. A small change in the law could have a big impact on entrepreneurship in this country, and that's what he proposed. When Dave presented this to the White House and State Department audience, he got a favorable reaction. That's when the second piece clicked, a few hours later. At Startup2Startup, we decided to generate some grassroots momentum to help out. It's actually part of a lean startup story.
Letting just 10,000 startup founders into the country each year could have a visible effect on the economy. If we assume 4 people per startup, which is probably an overestimate, that's 2500 new companies. Each year. They wouldn't all grow as big as Google, but out of 2500 some would come close.
By definition these 10,000 founders wouldn't be taking jobs from Americans: it could be part of the terms of the visa that they couldn't work for existing companies, only new ones they'd founded. In fact they'd cause there to be more jobs for Americans, because the companies they started would hire more employees as they grew.
David Binetti is an entrepreneur with some credibility in this area, having worked to create the original USA.gov. Recently, he's been engaged in a customer validation exercise around a new concept for a political action-oriented social network. When that concept didn't pan out, he decided to pivot. His latest effort, called 2gov.org, makes it easy to contact your local, state and federal governments with just a tweet. For more on his lean startup journey, you can take a look at this slide presentation. 2gov.org automatically routes your tweet (aggregating it with everyone else who's expressed a similar point of view) to the right legislator or agency. Because it checks your registration against voting rolls, members of congress know that the contacts being received are from actual voters, not just astro-turf. In other words, the service transforms tweets into professional reports that are sent by snail mail, fax, and email - the channels that actually have attention paid to them.
He was at today's event, and the Geeks on a Plane had a brainstorm. Let's use 2gov.org to raise awareness of the Startup Founders Visa movement in congress. To that end, we're tweeting about it, and would like to ask you to join us. If you are a US citizen, tweet your thoughts on the Startup Founders Visa, using the #StartupVisa hashtag and including @2gov. 2gov.org will take care of the rest. In order to have your tweet included in the printed packet that your representative will receive, you'll need to register at 2gov.org (it really only takes a minute).
The Geeks are doing their part. Will you lend us a hand (or at least a tweet)?