An Irish start-up in New York: Settling in with visas, living space and friendly networks

23 Oct 2017

Image: Popartic/Shutterstock

Andris Macs from Gecko Governance outlines some of the logistical challenges of moving into the New York market, including visas, accommodation and linking into the Irish-American network.

One of the biggest challenges for a small company trying to break into the US market is managing the logistical, financial and legal hurdles involved in establishing a presence on the ground.

The decision to place a full-time member of staff on site in New York needs careful consideration. It is a big undertaking that demands a significant allocation of both time and financial resources.

Logistical challenges

The logistical challenges of securing accommodation in the US are not for the faint-hearted. Without a US credit history, it is difficult to open a local bank account or take out a phone or internet contract.

A typical one-bedroom apartment rental in NYC can easily be more than $2,500 per month. Combined with three months’ rent as a deposit (due to no credit history), one month’s rent in advance, an outrageous one month’s real-estate broker fee, as well as the fact that the vast majority of properties in NYC are unfurnished, you can easily be looking at $20,000 upfront to move into a new two-bedroom place.

To circumvent this huge potential expense, we opted instead for a long-term rental on Airbnb in Williamsburg, one stop from Midtown Manhattan. Airbnb enables you to negotiate a much more favourable long-term rental without any deposit or furniture costs.

US visas

An additional headache that requires plenty of advance planning is the type of visa you will require in the United States.

The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) allows citizens of Ireland to travel to the United States without a visa for stays of 90 days or less. Travellers who are eligible to use the VWP must also apply for a valid Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) prior to travel. After a couple of consecutive trips on an ESTA, US Immigration will want to see you regularise your immigration status.

One option is to apply for a B1 10-year business visa, which is what we did. It costs €150 and requires an interview at the American Embassy in Dublin. The B1 visa allows holders to spend up to six months in the US at a time. However, in any given year, US Immigration will want to see that you are spending more time at home than in the United States.

After a number of long-term visits, US Immigration will likely question the use of a B1 visa for making multiple trips to the US, taking the view that it is being used to avoid obtaining a long-term work visa.

There are a number of options here. We were quoted $12,000 for two L1 visas. These visas allow you to stay and work in the US for three years and can be extended into the process of acquiring a green card.

Tapping into the Irish-American network

The Irish-American business network is incredible. Organisations such as the Irish Business Organization of New York, Irish International Business Network, Digital Irish and Enterprise Ireland are all available to assist, support and mentor your expansion. Companies such as Bank of Ireland have initiated innovative new programmes such as StartLab to specifically help Irish start-ups to grow and expand in the New York market.

Venture capital and angel funding is also available for fast-growing Irish companies moving into the US. Instrumental in our American expansion has been our VC partners Cosimo Ventures in Boston. Cosimo offers a unique partnership model of support, funding and operational assistance to expand into the US. Digital Irish Angels in New York also provides angel funding to Irish tech companies.

In our previous article, we touched on the benefit of running your own industry events. Irish-American business events are a great way to pitch and showcase your product. These events can help understand the opportunities, trends and pain points in your industry. They can provide new opportunities to expand and generate new leads and prospects.

We have run a number of events in the city this year, including a pioneering Blockchain for Funds seminar at the Barclays Rise centre, which involved partnering with both Barclays and the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

By Andris Macs and Ciara Wilson

Andris Macs is a senior business development analyst and Ciara Wilson is a content designer at Gecko Governance, a multi-award-winning regtech blockchain solution to easily allow fund managers to monitor and manage their regulation and compliance requirements.

Over this series of articles, Gecko Governance have shared their war stories on the practical side of opening an office in New York. Next up, they will discuss expanding into the Australian market with the opening an office in Sydney, as well as the challenge of managing global time zones and their Enterprise Ireland Trade Mission with President Michael D Higgins.