Immigration Reform 2013: New Start-Up Aims to Solve Problem, Silicon Valley Style

While the gang of eight grapple with immigration reform, a group of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs have been taking matters into their own hands. Sunnyvale based start-up Blueseed wants to offer a work around for foreign entrepreneurs looking to join Silicon Valley’s innovation economy.

Silicon Valley is the nation’s innovation hub par excellence. The business culture rewards success, but more importantly, it doesn’t ostracize failure. Couple that with abundant venture capital and it’s easy to see why the region attracts the world’s most entrepreneurial.

But starting a business in Silicon Valley is only a dream for many foreign born entrepreneurs, a large number of whom graduate from American institutions.

The current system allows foreign students into the country to study, but promptly kicks them out after graduation if they can’t obtain an H-1B employer sponsored work visa. These are notoriously difficult to get, and at any rate do no good for entrepreneurs looking to found their own firms.

Blueseed’s answer to a broken immigration system is to simply go outside it. The plan is to build a floating googleplex, park it 12 miles west of the San Francisco coastline, and let the innovators get to work.

By being positioned just outside the territorial waters of the U.S., Blueseed helps entrepreneurs avoid the visa issue; by being so close to Silicon Valley, it helps them access venture capital and networking opportunities.

The ship will fly under the flag of a country like the Bahamas or the Marshall Islands in order to apply British/American Common Law on board. Individuals will also be encouraged to use international commercial arbitration to handle any legal issues.

This start-up for start-ups is a perfect example of criticism through creation. In the face of a faulty, unresponsive system (the political, legal, and bureaucratic framework that gives us U.S. immigration policy), the founders of Blueseed have created an alternative. Granted, the fix is not to scale, but it could do two things:provide a proof-of-concept for further offshore ventures and maybe even shame the establishment into actually implementing some positive change.

But even if the U.S. lowered the drawbridge tomorrow and started handing out visas like Halloween candy, Blueseed would still have a place. According to co-founder Max Marty, there has been significant interest from even domestic entrepreneurs purely for Blueseed’s appeal as an accelerator.

Accelerators are a key part of the Silicon Valley business ecosystem. They take in cohorts of new start-ups, help them with networking and funding, and often provide physical space for collaboration between the different entrepreneurs working on their different projects. In return, the accelerators receive an equity stake in each start-up.

With a thousand entrepreneurs living in a contained environment spending most of their time away from the distractions of the mainland, Blueseed takes the accelerator concept and puts it on steroids.

Launch is currently slated for Q2 of 2014, so there’s plenty of time for the immigration debate to move into another stage. But whether or not there’s still a political debate for it to impact — and let’s face it, there probably will be — Blueseed could have a major impact on Silicon Valley and in turn the rest of the world.

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Jeff Fong

Jeff covers the intersection of politics, economics, and technology. He currently lives in the SF Bay Area where he works at a start up focused on urban transportation.

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