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Tired of federal fight, Brad Feld funds EIR program to help foreign entrepreneurs get US visas

By Dennis Keohane , written on March 31, 2015

From The News Desk

In a post on his personal blog today, Brad Feld announced that not only was he helping launch a new entrepreneur-in-residence program at Colorado University in his hometown of Boulder, but that he and his wife Amy would be privately backing the first year of the initiative.

Feld, the managing director of the Foundry Group and a co-founder of Techstars, mentions in his post that part of his interest in developing the EIR program is that it creates a way to help founders and entrepreneurs who aren't US citizens get the necessary visas to stay, work, and build innovative companies in the US without having to worry about immigration issues.

Feld says that he was motivated to create the program -- run by the CU-Boulder Silicon Flatirons Center for Law, Technology and Entrepreneurship -- by a similar initiative, the Global Entrepreneur-in-Residence program, which was enacted last year in Massachusetts by then governor Deval Patrick. In a rare state-led effort to push immigration reform, Patrick used a loophole in immigration law that allows visas to be granted to foreign graduates working in some capacity at a local institution of higher learning, while they are also building a startup.

Unfortunately, one of the first acts of new governor Charlie Baker was to cut the $1 million in funding earmarked for the program -- although, after an uproar from the Boston tech community and some goading by Flybridge Capital Partners' Jeff Bussgang, Baker restored $100,000 of funding - significantly less than the original amount promised.

The Colorado entrepreneur-in-residence program will take applications from both foreign and U.S.-born entrepreneurs for the program's four spots. However, in the announcement by Colorado University and in Feld's own blog, there's a lot of focus on the sponsored visa component of the EIR program. Foreign entrepreneurs will be employed part time by CU-Boulder making the eligible for visas sponsored by the school.

One other major difference between the Massachusetts program and the one being started in Colorado is that no state funding is needed for the Boulder program; Feld said that he and his wife Amy will provide the financial support — needed for salaries and other costs — for the program's first year.

In his post, Feld lays out some more of the details of the program, and also hints at a summer internship program in Colorado that he will be running in conjunction with MIT. And, although he reiterates that the program is open to all in the piece, make no mistake, this is an attempt by Feld to work around the perceived immigration logjam.

"I’ve gotten worn out on the federal level immigration fight," Feld concludes in his post. "I’m happy to continue to participate in advocacy for change around visas for entrepreneurs, but I’ve decided to focus my energy, and money, on exploring and experimenting with state-oriented solutions."