The Startup Visa Bill Debate

I'm on vacation this week skiing with my family. I got back from the mountain yesterday afternoon, checked in on email, made a few phone calls, and took a quick look at Techmeme. I saw a headline that said "The Startup Visa Act Must Be Stopped" and I noticed that the post was written by a member of the AVC community, Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, and that is was running on Business Insider.

I know Pascal. We met once briefly and I engage with him regularly here and also on Tumblr. He's a smart and thoughtful person. So I read his post carefully, thought about it, and slept on it.

Pascal's arguments against the Startup Visa Act are:

1) You have to find investors to get a Startup Visa

2) Once you've obtained a Startup Visa, your personal founder's risk goes up

3) It's bad for investors because the best foriegn entrepreneurs will self select out of this program

Those are all valid arguments and I appreciate that he is raising them. But to suggest that the Startup Visa Act "must be stopped" because of them is ridiculous.

Let me tell you a story. In the summer of 2008 I met one of the founders of Zemanta in London. I heard the story about how two of the founders had won 2007 Seedcamp and how they had started a company in Ljubjiana Slovenia with the funds they secured from Seedcamp. I was by that time already a Zemanta user and really liked the product. Seedcamp and the other seed investors offered our firm the opportunity to join the seed round and we did in the fall of 2008.

In early 2009, I suggested that the two founders move, at least temporarily, to the US so that they could build out the business side of the company here. They did so, but only on a tourist visa. And when that tourist visa ran out, both of them had to go back to Slovenia and wait a long time to get a more permanent visa. Both are now back in the US building the business, but the time they were kept out of the US was a critical time in the business and the company suffered from having them away. Time was lost and you can't get that back.

Had the startup visa act been the law of the land, they could simply have applied for and been awarded a startup visa right after securing their seed funding. None of this would have been an issue.

The startup visa is not just for entrepreneurs, like Pascal, who are thinking of starting a company in the US. It is also for the entrepreneurs who have already started a company and want to build their company, or part of it, in the US.

Pascal is thinking about this a binary choice and it is not. We have a suboptimal visa system here in the US for entrepreneurs. The startup visa will not solve all the problems. It is not a perfect solution. But it is a very good idea and it should not be "stopped." It should be made into law. Then entrepreneurs like Pascal can decide if they want to take advantage of it or not.

While I do not appreciate the headline that Business Insider put on Pascal's post (much as I don't like the headlines they sometimes put on my posts when the re-run them), I do appreciate the debate over the Startup Visa Act. Anything that is going to become the law of the land should be subject to debate.

So in the spirit of debate, here are some more posts on the startup visa act:

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