The Startup Visa

Where art thou, startup visa?
Over the years, business schools have helped develop great insights and theories into how markets work. However, there are times when these market theories don't work. Often the reason for this is because there are non-market forces at work, changing the dynamics of an industry. As an "international student" studying in the US and starting a company in the meanwhile, it is one of these non-market forces that is currently foremost on my mind. The issue is this: if the business I'm working on starts to gain traction, how am I going to get a visa to stay in the US, so that I can continue working on the business after my MBA?

Fortunately, someone seems to have anticipated my dilemma. A new bill is moving through the legislative process. For me, this bill provides the best opportunity to continue what I'm already working on. In essence, a new visa category will be created to support alien entrepreneurs able to raise $200k in investment to start a company. For the type of business that I'm working on, I think an amount slightly more than this - $300k - is a good amount of investment that can attain good returns for those who invest. Raising $300k is a realistic goal for me to target for by the end of the academic year. Having raised $25k before the Summer, and used it to reduce a lot of risk around the business, $300k seems achievable.

Without the Visa, my options seem to be as follows:
  • Rely on the current version of the "startup visa" - called the E5 visa. The E5 visa requires the entrepreneur to raise and invest $1M in a US business. This is a substantial amount, and in excess of what my business, PreScouter, requires.
  • Generate enough revenue with the business to support 3 or 4 people - under a so called Treaty Trader/Investor Visa. I estimate this requires generating revenues close to $0.5M a year, which I think is particularly aggressive for my business.
  • Convince someone to employ me, so that I can continue to work on the business. Perhaps there is a role of "entrepreneurial researcher" somewhere out there? Or perhaps a company might consider employing me for the purposes of making this business work, in return for an equity stake?
Neither of the first two options quite fit my needs. I just need a little bit of bridge funding to get the business to $0.5M a year of revenue and beyond -- something that is only provided for under the proposed Startup Visa act. The third option would be interesting, if it existed.

So the question for me is, "when will the Startup Visa Act become law?!". It seems like I'm not the only person wondering this, as this question has also been posted in on Quora. Fortunately, I was able to get five minutes with Brad Feld, one of the great proponents of the Startup Visa bill, at the TechCocktail Mixology conference that took place earlier this week. Brad seemed bullish that the act could become law by the time I graduate, in June 2011. Still, I don't think this will stop me tracking the progress of this bill with bated breath.