Start-up visas will be key to growing the tech landscape

22 Jun 2011

Alerted to the potential job-creation opportunities, locations like Silicon Valley and Ireland are getting behind the idea of creating start-up visas that allow overseas technology entrepreneurs to locate in a country they deem capable of giving their start-up the best chance.

In the US, Senators John Kerry and Richard Lugar are pushing the StartUp Visa Act through US Congress.

Under the Act, tech start-up founders with either US$100,000 in investor capital or revenues can get a work visa to locate in Silicon Valley or elsewhere for two years if their venture is deemed capable of achieving revenues or investment of US$500,000 and can create five full-time jobs in that period.

In Ireland, it is believed work is under way at the Department of Justice to create a similar structure that would support IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland in their efforts to grow jobs here by encouraging talented overseas executives and investors to make Ireland a home for future technology success stories.

US-Ireland Alliance probe StartUp Visa legislation

Yesterday in San Francisco, the US-Ireland Alliance – known for its George J Mitchell Scholarship and annual Oscar Wilde Hollywood event – held a visa round table.

Betsy Markey, assistant secretary of Intergovernmental Affairs at the Department of Homeland Security, met with a small group of US/Irish venture capitalists, social media leaders and tech leaders brought together by the Alliance.

Markey, a former congresswoman from Denver, also has the distinction of having created and sold a tech company with her husband in the 1980s.

Trina Vargo, president of the US-Ireland Alliance, arranged the gathering after hearing the issue of H1-B visas continually raised in her conversations with entrepreneurs in San Francisco: “It’s no secret that some companies are at pains to hire skilled workers in order to remain competitive.

“We simply created an opportunity for a dialogue with a high-ranking administration official. The Alliance would like to see more entrepreneurs consider Ireland as a place to set up European operations. 

“Equally, if the Irish are among those who can fill US workforce needs, that’s a win/win for all involved and the kind relationship we encourage.”

Start-up visas were also part of the conversation. Senators Kerry, Lugar and Mark Udall have introduced legislation to allow immigrant entrepreneurs to receive a two-year visa if he or she can show that a qualified US investor is willing to invest in the immigrant’s start-up venture.

The Obama Administration supports the idea of a start-up visa. During a recent visit to Dublin, Vargo was made aware of several Irish who hope to avail of such an opportunity.

Getting things done

Anthony McCusker, a partner at Goodwin Procter, hosted the gathering in the firm’s San Francisco office. At the meeting, Vargo announced that McCusker had just joined the advisory board of the US-Ireland Alliance.

McCusker is a partner and co-chair of Goodwin Procter’s Technology Companies Group, where he focuses on the formation and financing of emerging growth companies.

He said he was attracted by the alliance’s “modern approach to the relationship” and Vargo’s get-things-done approach. 

Vargo added: “Anthony and I share the same philosophy of cutting to the core, taking decisions and acting. He brings a wealth of experiences and relationships to our organisation, I look forward to working with him and I’m sure he will help us take the alliance to the next level.”

Among those present at the meeting were individuals from a venture capitalist at Kleiner Perkins to young entrepreneurs like Mike Galligan of SimpleGeo and Robert Martin of Signal Demand.

The Mitchell Scholars network is also evident in the Bay Area. Ryan Hanley, who studied engineering at Trinity, attended the gathering as a new entrepreneur. 

Hanley recently obtained is MBA from Berkeley-Haas and has just founded SmartSense Energy, focused on the emerging smart-grid industry. Also present was Aaron Kurman, who had studied at the University of Ulster. He has just graduated from Stanford Law School and is exploring a few start-up ideas himself.

Vargo noted that assistant secretary Markey and her team were “hugely informative and clearly interested in helping start-ups, as well as large companies create jobs and be competitive.” 

The assistant secretary works for the Department of Homeland Security where Jane Holl Lute is the deputy secretary. Holl Lute was on Bill Clinton’s national security staff in the mid-1990s and worked with Vargo (then a foreign policy adviser) on the Northern Ireland peace process. Holl Lute once served as a reader of Mitchell Scholar applicants and she and her husband Maj-Gen Doug Lute, met with Mitchell Scholars just last year.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years