Visa-free Offshore Community Plan For Launching Startups (Tech Week Europe, May 25, 2012)
October 17, 2012 by Eric Jacobus
Visa quotas mean that companies cannot always recruit the skilled workers they need to develop products. Blueseed, a US startup incubator, is planning to literally launch a solution to address the problem.
The company is planning a serviced environment – a twist on the serviced offices concept – by housing it on a customised ship. The “seastead” will be anchored 12 miles off the Silicon Valley coast in international waters, putting it outside the jurisdiction of the US authorities.
Floating a concept
The idea, co-masterminded by Dan Dascalescu, CIO of Blueseed, is at an early stage of planning and it appears that the actual design of the vessel has yet to be selected from a number of concept designs for cruiseships that can comfortably house a population of 1,000 people.
Startups can rent living and working space on the projected vessel with rent ranging from $1,200 (£765) to $3,000 (£1,914) per person per month depending on the grade of accommodation required. On top of this, Blueseed would also levy between two and eight percent of the startup’s equity, depending on the nature and development stage of the each organisation.
Like the pirate radio ships that were ranged off the UK shores in the 1960s, the, literally, offshore facilities put the community out of reach of local laws and immigration restrictions, freeing-up the nascent companies to employ the best people to bring their venture to fruition, assuming they are not prone to seasickness.
Startups would be expected to comprise three or four people, Blueseed estimates, and would be resident for about a year. This does not mean they will be onboard captives. US citizens can travel back and forth at will and workers without work visas can travel to the mainland on a business (B1) or tourist (B2) visa for a total stay of up to 180 days per year.
Dascalescu, an ambassador for The Seasteading Institute, said that he and his co-founders Max Marty and Dario Mutabdzija plan to launch the project at the end of 2013 or beginning of 2014. The company already has 240 startup applications which cover around 800 people from 52 countries. When any of these companies reach sufficient size, they can relocate to Silicon Valley with assistance from legal resources and contacts provided by Blueseed.
Romanian-born Dascalescu said that he got the idea when working at Yahoo in 2006 and became aware of the concept of “seasteading”, the creation of floating islands, when trying to get the necessary visa permits to start up his own company.
In an age of telecommuting, the concept of seasteading could be questioned but telecommuting has its drawbacks. Shane Mac, director of product at startup Zaarly, a local services search engine, said, “Many businesses can be run successfully from anywhere in the world, using collaboration software and teleconferencing. Other businesses are much more likely to succeed in an environment where people interact in person, and startups are a great example of that. Google, LinkedIn, Twitter, Groupon, Zynga – they didn’t start online; they started thanks to the serendipity of a place that allowed the founders to meet and work together with the talent they needed, face-to-face.”
This does not preclude the use of telecommuting and the company has said that it will provide Internet connectivity through a variety of methods.
“We’ll provide reliable, high-bandwidth Internet connectivity starting with a point-to-point 1Gbps microwave link with a satellite link backup,” it said. “Later stage plans include a 10Gbps laser link currently used in military applications and being phased into commercial usage, submarine cable deployment, and a mesh network of WiMAX routers placed on buoys.”
According to Dascalescu, several British startups have enquired about shipboard accommodation, alongside US companies that want to use foreign workers but do not want the hassle of organising visas.