Blueseed says U.S. immigration law is choking the flow of “bold and creative” entrepreneurs into Silicon Valley. So it’s building a floating IT fortress where entrepreneurs can be bold and creative right next to Silicon Valley without actually setting foot on U.S. soil.
To get around the government’s immigration choke-hold, the much-discussed startup plans to sail foreign innovators 12 miles off the Northern California shore, into international waters. Once there, governed only by loosely enforced maritime treatises, these entrepreneurs can ply their trade without worrying about worker visas or various other immigration regulations. And they can live in San Francisco. Ferries will shuttle them back and forth.
This is more than just an idea. Big-name venture capitalist and PayPal founder Peter Thiel just sunk some cash into the Blueseed crusade, and on Tuesday, the company released detailed mockups of its floating incubator (see the above image gallery, given exclusively to Wired).
Gabriel Jack, an immigration attorney at law firm MJ Law in Silicon Valley, tells Wired the notion is legally sound — though he points out that workers on the floating incubator will need valid visitor visas, which can be good for up to 10 years. “There’s nothing in the [visa] law that says how often you can visit the United States. If they make it clear that they work in international waters and are using a visitor visa to stay on land,” he says. “I don’t see how the immigration department can do anything about it legally.”
But there’s more to deal with here than just the law. Last week, Wired sat down with the Blueseed’s three founders to get the low-down on its plan to take the TechCrunch set on an eternal boat ride.
Wired: So, who gets on this boat?
Dan Dascalescu, CIO: Our main focus is IT and software startups. Biotech and other types take much more equipment. Most those applying for memberships so far have been for local, mobile and social applications. We may have other sectors eventually, but the focus is IT.
Wired: You’ll need the Internet. How’s it going to get out there?
Max Marty, CEO: We’re testing out a few ideas. We’ll need a stable and low-latency bandwidth connection to the Internet. Cruise ships have not done this well, relying on satellite which is slow, and the price is significantly higher than it is on land.
A laser could be good, but is susceptible to fog, which is bad in the Bay Area. We’re considering running an undersea cable from ship to shore, but it may be be cost prohibitive. [Blueseed has received estimates of over a million dollars for just the installation, but is still researching permits.]
Dan: We’re also looking at a wireless solution, the Rocket M5 GPS radio and the RocketDish 34 dbi antenna. Or a network of WiMax relay buoys in the water.
Dario Mutabdzija, President: We’re going to take a Silicon Valley approach to these problems too. Fuse the old solutions with new innovative ones. We’re confident we’ll find solutions. But we are still looking for partners to help us solve them.
Wired: What about power?
Max: We won’t be motoring, so we anticipate drawing less power on average than a cruise ship. But we’ll still discourage people from drawing too much power, like pushing people to use laptops over major servers.
Wired: These mockups are interesting but far from final. How much work would need to go into modifications of the vessel you eventually purchase?
Max: Depends on the option we go with. If we go with a barge, that already has a built in office space. One that we’re looking at already has cafes, sauna, an indoor soccer field.
If we get a cruise ship, it comes with much more space, but not a lot of office space. We’d need to take the existing cabins and tear down some walls. We’re probably going to need a ship meant for much more than a 1000 passengers.
Dario: For economic reasons, today these cruise ships can be purchased for cheap. The economy is docking a lot of ships around the world.
Dan: No matter what we go with, we want to be the Googleplex of the sea.
Wired: What do you do about companies that start to overgrow your space?
Max: We’re envisioning that they come to us with a few employees, but I’m not terribly worried about that angle. When they reach ten or fifteen employees, they should have the resources internally to connect them back on shore.
Dario: Our job is to help them outgrow our facilities.
Wired: It’s typical of incubators to ask for a share of the company. What will Blueseed ask?
Max: The amount of equity should vary on a case by case basis. A single person might be around nine percent and foreign entities might be closer to three or four percent.
Wired: The sea can be a rough place. What do you do during a storm?
Dan: Bad weather will mean they have to come into port and anyone without H1 would have to stop working. [It is unclear whether an international Force Majeure clause would protect the workers and allow them to continue working in US port while the storm passed.]
Wired: A lot of people think this idea functions as a pretty powerful symbol for today’s US Immigration policies.
Dario: A company like Google gets an H1 visa for one worker. We’re trying to get visas for regular workers. When foreign startup founders come here, they have a much harder time getting the visa. We are trying to help these individuals where they wouldn’t have to go through numerous regulatory hurdles.
Dan: There is also the Startup Visa Act, which we support, but it hasn’t seen much progress in Congress.
Max: The immigration system we have today was really designed for a very different era.
Wired: But it seems like any loosening of immigration regulations would actually hurt your business.
Dan: If congress passes this law, we would consider it a success.
Dario: And the bill has numerous requirements. Even if it’s adopted, we still believe there would be a market for Blueseed.
Max: But if we’re not 12 miles offshore, we can be 12 feet offshore. We still believe this is going to be the world’s most awesome incubator. That won’t change.