I’ve noticed some momentum building around the web for a startup visa. I love the idea. If it had been around 10 years ago, it would have changed my life.
My dream since I was 12 (~1985) was to move to the USA and make a startup. Having grown up in Australia with the Commodore Amiga, I was amazed by the idea of a group of dentists funding an intensely smart group of engineers who ended up building the Amiga. We were blown away by companies like Epyx who made incredible games and utilities. I didn’t know it back then, but many of these companies were based in Silicon Valley.
So I followed my dream, and in 1999 I was working at Oracle in Silicon Valley. But I found the life in a big corporate machine was really not for me. I really, REALLY wanted to be in the startup world, building my own startup.
As an Australian citizen working in the USA with an H1b visa wanting to make a startup, I found 4 options:
1. Join someone’s startup, sponsored under an H1b. The problem with this approach is that if their startup fails, I have to be re-sponsored for a new visa. And, obviously I am not building my own startup this way.
2. Make my own startup. But with an H1b visa, this was going to be difficult to arrange. H1b visas are better for employees with minority ownership, not founders. And again, what happens if the startup fails after 3 months?
3. Leave the USA and move to a country close by which would enable me to use the infrastructure of the US, but avoid the visa issue entirely. (I didn’t want to return to Australia since I didn’t feel the startup culture was very strong there, and the timezone makes online work difficult).
4. Stay working at a big company until my greencard was issued. This would have taken 3-4 years. Maybe I should have followed this approach, but I really, really wanted to be out doing something on my own.
In the end, I chose #3, and now live in the Dominican Republic. I’ve done reasonably well and am quite happy here. But the problem I face locally is the lack of a startup scene and technology talent. I can’t build an ebay or a google from the caribbean. I’ve had to become extremely good at building a network remotely; thus I run http://MeetInnovators.com
I can tell you that if there had been an option of a startup visa, where if I raised $1M in funding I would be granted a visa to live in the USA and build a company, I would have put 100% of my energy in making that happen. And, if a visa category like this is created, I may just go ahead and do it now, even though I’m now considered old by startup standards (37). (Its considered the most successful startups are built by people in their 20s). So this would have been a perfect fit for me 10 years ago.
One last comment: I’m comfortable with risk. So make the visa performance based! Give the entrepreneur 3 shots at making a company work. And if they can’t, send them home. Thats pretty rough, but it would be a much better option than I had back in 1999.