Immigrant visas are becoming tougher to come by, even for high-powered technology startups. When entrepreneurs with a business idea want to launch in the United States but they are not U.S. citizens themselves, they can turn to the Global EIR Coalition, an entrepreneur-in-residence program started by Chris Nicholson.
A Los Altos native and 2003 graduate of Los Altos High School, Nicholson always thought outside the box. He made headlines as an 18-year-old running for city council soon after graduating. Nicholson grew up in a changing Silicon Valley, and he saw how tech entrepreneurs took advantage of a changing economy.
“Growing up in Los Altos really focused my understanding of the role that technology and technology investment can play in shaping political change,” he recalled. “I saw firsthand the changes that were being made by entrepreneurs and engineers in Los Altos. I saw the value that was being created. I got to know these people from growing up in Los Altos.”
An understanding of the startup scene led to an understanding of the role immigrants have played in transforming the Valley of Heart’s Delight into Silicon Valley.
“If you look at job growth created by immigrants here, it’s massive,” Nicholson said. “We owe the fact that this is not a bunch of apricot orchards to the incredible immigrant population that has moved into our region and grown this into a technology.”
Rather than bringing more and more people to Los Altos, however, Nicholson’s Global EIR (entrepreneur-in-residence) Coalition hopes to bring little Silicon Valleys to cities across the nation.
“It’s impossible not to see the value of immigrants when you grow up in Los Altos,” he said. “I want to do that for communities across the country.”
Making every college global
The Global EIR Coalition brings entrepreneurs to universities around the country. The university serves as an incubator, providing the entrepreneur with an H-1B visa. The entrepreneurs must donate a portion of their time to students, serving as an adviser and perhaps a teacher. So far, seven universities have signed on – including San Jose State.
Not bad for a company formed over meetings at The American Italian Deli on Main Street. Nicholson and Executive Director Craig Montuori would meet with Sand Hill Road investors over turkey sandwiches and soft drinks.
Nicholson is the head of strategy, which means he works with Montuori to find partnerships.
“Our job is to help universities do this by giving them the legal documentation and introducing individuals to help fund the program,” Nicholson said. “Our job is to nurture this idea and make it an easy lift for new cities to adopt it.”
He said that the draw for universities is to bring an entrepreneurial mindset to their city and their students.
“It means job opportunities for graduates and internships/mentors for current students,” Nicholson said. “We ask that entrepreneurs give their time every week to the school – to volunteer, to answer questions, to mentor, to give back a relationship that provides support and a nexus of benefit to the university.”
For entrepreneurs, it is an opportunity to pursue their dreams, whether it’s in San Jose or somewhere with less-pleasant weather like Boston, Chicago – or even Anchorage.
“The people who are doing this can get some visa to do something,” Nicholson said. “It is not that they have no pathway into the U.S., but if they can’t get a visa to do a startup, they have to go elsewhere or work for a big tech company.”
The argument is that, with fewer large technology companies outside Silicon Valley, the Global EIR Coalition spreads the wealth by having entrepreneurs pursue their dreams in an unconventional partnership.
“It’s a very different immigration story than I think most people go through,” Nicholson said.
A program that brings in immigrants to start companies may seem politically motivated, but Nicholson said it comes down to dollars and cents.
“This is a program that is aimed at founders,” he said. “We specifically structure it to make that point. This is not people taking jobs away, but they are creating new businesses.”
Instead, he hopes that one startup can lead to several jobs created.
“This is new jobs created. We see that in the 50 new jobs created by the 30 visas we’ve offered,” he said. “We are and we will remain a net positive.”
For the Los Altos native, the Global EIR Coalition is a way to make more places like the Los Altos he knows.
“We have to be promoting tech companies and company growth outside of San Francisco, Boston, New York and Los Angeles,” he noted. “A more functional company has to be everywhere, and because of the internet, they can be. Everybody should benefit from immigration.”
For more information, visit globaleir.org.