Foreign tech entrepreneurs looking for easier ways to develop code may soon get a whole new way to ship. Specifically: a cruise ship.
Blueseed, a four-person Sunnyvale startup backed by prominent investor Peter Thiel, is working on a novel solution to the problems of gridlock in immigration reform and overpriced Silicon Valley real estate.
That solution: a giant floating startup barge anchored 12 miles off the coast of California, stocked with 1,000 entrepreneurs from around the world.
The project, which may take the form of a converted cruise ship, would bring startup founders within ferry distance of Silicon Valley’s key resources – venture capitalists, top talent and a business environment friendly to outlandish ideas. (Ahem.) But their offshore status would let them work without having to go through the rigamarole of obtaining U.S. visas.
To make it happen, Blueseed will have to raise tens of millions of dollars, attract hundreds of high-quality entrepreneurs and negotiate complicated legal issues. (For starters: determining what nation’s flag to fly under.) And that’s before it builds a small floating city in international waters.
Its organizers acknowledge that much of the media attention so far has been of the you’ve-got-to-be-kidding-me variety. But they’re making a serious effort to realize their plan.
“I don’t think this is crazy at all, from a legal or engineering point of view,” said Dario Mutabdzija, the company’s president. “Which is not to say it’s easy. It’s an ambitious project, and I’m fully aware of that.”
Company executives are speaking at 6:30 p.m. Monday at Adobe headquarters in San Jose at an event organized by the Commonwealth Club. It’s part of a campaign to raise awareness, and hopefully capital, for the year-old company.
Blueseed illustrates just how difficult it has become for foreign entrepreneurs to start companies in the United States, advocates of immigration reform say. Existing visa categories are designed primarily for employees of large multinational corporations and wealthy investors who are prepared to spend more than $1 million and hire at least 10 employees.
Several pieces of legislation have been introduced in the past few years aimed at making allowances for highly skilled entrepreneurs who want to build startups in America. But with immigration among the most divisive issues in Congress, little progress has been made.
“The Blueseed Project is a not-so-subtle, but creative, reminder that we need bipartisan leadership from D.C. for substantial immigration reform,” said Carl Guardino, CEO of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, in an e-mail.
Reform, he said, would allow Silicon Valley “to attract the best and brightest workers from throughout the world to work for – rather than compete against – American companies.”
“My first reaction was, good for them,” said Pelta, whose organization advocates immigration reform. “It really makes a statement about the limitations of our immigration laws with respect to entrepreneurs and startups.”
Pelta said that despite some recent progress in getting bills assigned to committees, legislation that might ease the visa shortage appears to be getting little traction.
And so Mutabdzija and his team are sketching out the details of their plan. More than 200 companies have expressed interest in the project through Blueseed’s website, the company says, representing more than 700 entrepreneurs eager to make a splash in the States.
If Blueseed is funded, they’ll pay anywhere from $1,200 to $3,000 per month, plus an equity stake in their company, to live onboard. Coming ashore will require only a tourist visa, which typically are easier to get than work visas.
To get to Silicon Valley, Blueseed will offer ferry service at least twice a day, with faster helicopter transport available for emergencies. A round-trip from the vessel to San Francisco would take about 90 minutes, the company says.
Blueseed is marketing the boat as a kind of “high-tech university dorm” with a “24/7 hack-a-thon” atmosphere. Its marketing materials display the blithe optimism Silicon Valley is famous for. “Did your startup fail?” asks one slide in the company’s pitch deck. “The startup in the next cabin is probably hiring.”
If all goes according to plan, the Blueseed ship will make its maiden voyage at the end of 2013.
“We want to be one of the coolest and the best environments for high-tech startups anywhere,” said Mutabdzija, a U.S. citizen who emigrated from the former Yugoslavia. “Our goal is to do a better job than the incubators and accelerators that exist in Silicon Valley.”