Start-up report prompts calls for immigration overhaul in US

Almost half of 50 venture-backed companies in the United States were founded or co-founded by immigrants, a study shows, prompting calls for an overhaul of the country’s immigration laws.


The study, conducted by the National Foundation for American Policy, shows of the 50 venture-backed companies included in the study, 23% have at least one immigrant founder.


In addition, 37% of these companies employ at least one immigrant in a key management position, such as chief technology officer.


The study looked at the top 50 venture-backed companies as measured by research firm VentureSource, based on factors such as company growth and the amount of capital raised.


VentureSource only considered companies valued at less than $1 billion.


According to the study, the countries that supply the highest number of foreign founders include India, Israel, Canada, Iran and – surprisingly – New Zealand.


Some of Silicon Valley’s hottest start-ups have immigrant founders, including online craft marketplace Etsy, founded by Swiss Haim Schoppik, and various Indian-founded companies.


Importantly, the study shows immigrant-founded companies create an average of 150 jobs; a major point of interest given the unemployment crisis plaguing the US economy.


The findings have prompted calls for the US Government to overhaul the rules governing how entrepreneurs can immigrate to the US to spur job development.


Mark Heesen, president of the National Venture Capital Association, says the flawed immigration system is hurting the US economy.


“It’s a gamble whether an entrepreneur should stay or leave right now, and that’s not how the immigration system should work,” Heesen said earlier this week.


“What we need is legislation that helps these entrepreneurs from outside the United States.”


In March this year, US Senators John Kerry and Richard Lugar, along with Senator Mark Udall, reintroduced legislation designed to help immigrant entrepreneurs secure visas to the US.


The Startup Visa of 2011 would allow an immigrant entrepreneur to receive a two-year visa if he or she can show that a qualified US investor is willing to invest in their start-up venture.


“Our broken immigration system prevents talented entrepreneurs from all over the world from developing ideas that keep America competitive in a global economy,” Udall said in a statement.


“While I believe broader reform of the immigration system is long overdue, this fix is important to ensure we don’t unnecessarily hinder the innovators and entrepreneurs who will help drive America’s future economy.”


Meanwhile, an unusual tech incubator in the US is planning to help entrepreneurs do business in Silicon Valley by offering space on a vessel in international waters.


Blueseed, led by chief executive Max Marty, is launching a visa-free tech start-up incubator on an ocean vessel, located approximately 20 kilometres off the coast of Silicon Valley.


“That’s outside the jurisdiction of the United States, but close enough to the Valley that you could meet face-to-face with potential investors and clients,” Blueseed said on its website.


“Our facilities will be a short ferry ride away from Silicon Valley… while having convenient access to the San Francisco Bay Area.”


Blueseed is currently seeking investment for the project and hopes to launch the vessel in 2013.


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