You can lament retrograde American immigration laws that prevent highly skilled foreigners from coming here to work in the tech industry, or you can set up an office at sea.
Max Marty is trying the latter course. If all goes according to plan, his new company, Blueseed, will be the world’s first floating startup incubator, located on a ship off the coast of California. The idea is to provide a base of operations for foreign entrepreneurs who want to be close to Silicon Valley but can’t get a work visa.
Marty and his cofounder Dario Mutabdzija plan to buy or lease a large ship, station it in international waters 12 nautical miles off the coast, and then rent out office space. Because Blueseed won’t technically be in the United States, foreign entrepreneurs aboard the ship will be able to skirt certain immigration laws. Instead of getting visas to work in the United States, they can get more easily attainable B-1 visas, which allow visits to the U.S. for business or tourism.
Daily ferries from the ship to Silicon Valley will make it easy for entrepreneurs to take day trips for business meetings ashore. Rent aboard the ship will range from $1,200 to $3,000 per month, and Blueseed will take a small equity stake in each company that comes aboard.
Blueseed is aiming for a 2013 launch, but it’s an ambitious plan, to say the least. In addition to a ship with a great internet connection, the company estimates it will need 200-300 crew members, including some top-drawer immigration lawyers.
Marty and Mutabdzija are both alumni of the Seasteading Institute, a Peter Thiel-backed nonprofit that has been working on establishing sovereign communities at sea—with limited success—since 2008. We’ll see how Blueseed fares. At the least, the idea may help highlight the fact that America’s immigration laws are making it hard for talented, productive people to set up their businesses here.