As an American citizen, I don’t know if I should feel really impressed or disappointed about Blueseed’s plans. It’s either the epitome of the broken American immigration system, or its a powerful metaphor of how driven entrepreneurs are to find solutions to problems, no matter how far out their dreams are on the horizon.
In Blueseed’s case, they’re dreaming exactly 12 miles out on the horizon in the international waters off the coast of San Francisco. Once the group secures enough funding, they plan on placing a vessel just outside of U.S. jurisdiction, creating an incubator platform on which entrepreneurs from the Nordic countries and around the world could work without a US work visa, and yet can still be a short ferry ride away from the unique environment that Silicon Valley provides.
When the CIO of Blueseed, Dan Dascalescu, first contacted us, I almost dismissed the email as nonsense. The logistics of the idea first seemed completely unrealistic, but now the plans sound more like they’re only “dreaming big” given the team’s backgrounds.
To begin with how Blueseed formed, in Dan’s words, “Blueseed was born from the marriage of two ideas, that happened to circulate in the same fertile idea space that is Silicon Valley: seasteading and startups.” Dan and the other two co-founders, Max Marty and Dario Mutabdzija, became acquainted when they held positions at Seasteading Institute, an institution founded in 2008 by economist Milton Friedman’s grandson and invested in by Paypal founder Peter Thiel. The mission of the institute is “to further the establishment and growth of permanent, autonomous ocean communities, enabling innovation with new political and social systems”.
Advising the Blueseed team is a collection of experts specializing in immigration, legal, political and maritime realms. The team obviously has spent a good chunk of their lives working out the logistics behind such a project, and have come up with several concept vessels that look similar to modified cruise or cargo ships.
The demand for foreigners to operate businesses near the valley is huge, and one doesn’t have to look too far to find examples of successful entrepreneurs having to move back to their home countries due to poorly crafted immigration laws. As an impetus to the project, Dan Dascalescu cites an article by Professor Vivek Wadhwa, titled “Why Silicon Valley Entrepreneurs are Returning Home”. It detailed how an Indian entrepreneur, graduate of a U.S. school, unable to obtain a visa to start his startup, returned to India and started what later became the immensely successful startup Snapdeal – India’s Groupon.
This immigration issue deeply affected the Blueseed team, of which two are immigrants (from Serbia and Romania), and the other is the son of Cuban immigrants. Rather than accepting the current reality, Dan tells us, “If U.S. policy hasn’t kept pace with the changing economic realities of the era, someone needs to find a solution that will help entrepreneurs come to Silicon Valley if they so desire. And that someone might as well be us. In other words, it’s time to stop complaining and start solving the problem.”
On their website they state they plan to start accommodation prices off at around $1500 a month, and transportation will be provided to the mainland by a daily ferry. Internet connectivity will be provided via a point-to-point 40Gbps laser link with satellite link backup. They are also looking at additional backup solutions using submarine cable and potentially a series of WiMAX relay buoys. A visa is not required to earn a paycheck on Blueseed, and most residents will be able to travel back and forth to the mainland with a business/pleasure B1 Visa.
It should be noted that rather than attacking the problem by sea, other groups have come together to motivate congress to allow a “Startup Visa” that would enable entrepreneurs to legally live and start their own businesses in the United States. Unfortunately, since March 2011 when the Startup Visa Act was pushed into Congress, there has been no real progress on the proposed legislation.
Today, Blueseed says they’re hard at work developing partnerships with startup networks and incubators all over the world. With the goal of launching in Q3 2013, they must put together funding, a vessel, and a crew of entrepreneurs. On that note, If you’re planning on taking your startup to the US around 2013, they are testing the waters with a survey on their website.
The more I think about it, the more I like this project. Seasteading, the greater concept behind Blueseed, seems like an inevitability. The technology isn’t overly prohibitive, and it doesn’t seem out of the question that within 10 years people some will live somewhat permanently on the oceans.
But one thing is for certain: for that first platform or vessel to be inhabited, it’s going to need a certain type of crazy person. And there’s no one crazier than an entrepreneur trying to get near the ideas, capital and culture of Silicon Valley. The Nordic region has long made its money out on the water– from fishing to pillaging vikings. Perhaps we’ll see a new high tech era out on the high seas.