The idea is to dodge U.S. visa limits by setting up talented foreigners aboard a cruise ship, where they can launch their start-up companies.
Max Marty and Dario Mutabdzija say they plan to park a cruise ship 12 nautical miles off the coast of Northern California in international waters. Foreign-born entrepreneurs would live and work on the ship, building start-ups within commuting distance of Silicon Valley. They wouldn’t need the work visas that are so hard to come by. They would just need business tourism visas that would let them ferry back and forth to Silicon Valley once or twice a week.
The unusual project, called Blueseed, illustrates the fantastical lengths to which some in Silicon Valley are willing to go in their bid to bring more highly skilled foreign workers and entrepreneurs to its shores.
The high-tech industry has been lobbying to increase the cap of 65,000 temporary work visas permitted each year. Strict limits on high-tech visas keep foreigners — many of whom were educated in the United States — on waiting lists for years.
That brain drain threatens the growth of the high-tech industry and the U.S. economy, said Vivek Wadhwa, author of “The Immigrant Exodus: Why America Is Losing the Global Race to Capture Entrepreneurial Talent.”
“We are choking off the supply of immigrants and the lifeblood of Silicon Valley,” Wadhwa said.
Marty, the son of Cuban immigrants, and Mutabdzija, who came to the United States as a refugee from the former Yugoslavia, said they grew weary of all the political talk about immigration reform in Washington. In 2011, they hatched the idea for Blueseed.
Marty and Mutabdzija have had to navigate the legal and logistical challenges to develop a permanent onboard community outside the territorial waters of the United States — not to mention plenty of eye-rolling.
Marty says he has heard all the “Atlantis Shrugged” and “Waterworld” jokes. He has patiently answered questions about pirates and tsunamis. Despite widespread skepticism, he insists Blueseed is a serious endeavor, not a publicity stunt.
“We are a very determined couple of founders,” Marty said.
Blueseed’s current plan is to lease a cruise ship that could house 1,000 entrepreneurs plus crew. The ship would have cafes, a gym, co-working space, medical professionals and a private security force. Entrepreneurs could share a cabin for $1,200 a month or get their own for $1,600. They also would hand over a 6 percent equity stake to Blueseed. Entrepreneurs could stay aboard six months to a year.
Blueseed got some much needed cash in December from Silicon Valley angel investor Mike Maples and others. But the $350,000 round of funding was just a drop in the bucket: Blueseed is trying to raise $27 million.
Maples, always on the hunt for big, daring ideas, says he invested in Blueseed to support immigrant entrepreneurs who might one day build the next Apple or Facebook.
“I don’t know whether Blueseed will work or not,” Maples said. “But here’s another opportunity to help people who want to come to this country to build great companies.”