Idea floated for a startup colony anchored in Pacific Ocean

Mar 17, 2013 by Jessica Guynn

Even here in the world capital of far-fetched ideas, this one is more outlandish than most. Two Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, frustrated by the shortage of visas that keep some of the world's brightest science and engineering minds from building companies on dry land, have hatched a plan to build a startup colony in the middle of the Pacific.

Max Marty and Dario Mutabdzija say they plan to park a 12 nautical miles off the coast of Northern California in international waters. Foreign-born entrepreneurs would live and work on the ship, building startups within commuting distance of . 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 lawmakers without success to increase the cap of 65,000 visas permitted each year. Strict limits on high-tech visas keep foreigners - many of whom were educated in the United States, sometimes at taxpayer expense - on waiting lists for years.

That threatens the continued 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.

But the 2012 elections, in which Latino voters played an influential role, have sparked new hope for sweeping immigration reform. And - for the first time - Silicon Valley leaders think they have a real shot at getting more high-tech visas for foreign talent.

Executives have met with President Barack Obama and lawmakers. They are planning a nationwide social media campaign, or "virtual march," to encourage people to use the Internet - email, Facebook, Twitter - to tell lawmakers they want immigration reform - a grass-roots tactic that last year helped Silicon Valley rally opposition to proposed legislation to combat piracy and established the high-tech industry as a political force. Silicon Valley has also begun to quietly lobby lawmakers in the Republican-controlled House.

Obama, in his State of the Union speech in February, called for "real reform" that would "attract the highly skilled entrepreneurs and engineers that will help create jobs and grow our economy."

Immigration reform for high-tech workers is also gaining momentum on Capitol Hill, where a bipartisan group of eight senators is working on comprehensive legislation.

Still, reform is far from certain. Democrats are insisting on a single bill on immigration, while some Republicans oppose key elements of a broad overhaul. Even the growing number of lawmakers who support reform worry it could harm American workers.

The Obama administration has its own immigration bill ready to go if congressional talks break down, but White House senior advisors have not tipped their hand to the high-tech industry on what specifically that would mean for it.

Marty, the son of Cuban immigrants, and Mutabdzija, who came to the United States as a refugee from the war-torn former Yugoslavia, said they grew weary of all the political talk about immigration reform in Washington. In 2011, they hatched the idea for Blueseed.

Unlike other countries, the United States offers no specific visa for highly skilled foreigners who want to start a business, Marty said. Eventually many of them return home in frustration or head for countries that entice them with visas and cash.

A recent study from the Kauffman Foundation found that the number of high-tech immigrant-founded startups has stalled for the first time in decades. The proportion of these companies in Silicon Valley declined to 44 percent in 2012 from 52 percent in 2005, according to the study.

Blueseed, which is targeting spring 2014 for its launch, borrows from the concept of "seasteading" - the libertarian idea to create floating cities that was championed by Patri Friedman, a former Google engineer and the grandson of economist Milton Friedman, and backed by venture capitalist and hedge fund manager Peter Thiel. Seasteaders want to build a flotilla of new sovereign nations on oil rig-like platforms anchored in international waters where people could live free from the burdens of taxes and government. Marty and Mutabdzija met while working at the Seasteading Institute.

More than 380 companies from 68 countries have applied for a spot on Blueseed. About a quarter of the applicants hail from the United States, but most are foreigners chasing the elusive Silicon Valley dream.

Andrew Considine, co-founder of mobile startup Willstream Labs, who is based in Ireland, says Blueseed could open up opportunities for his company and its employees, who might not otherwise get the chance to set foot in Silicon Valley.

"I think Blueseed is an incredible opportunity for non-U.S. entrepreneurs to work in what is no doubt the most powerful startup environment in the world," Considine said.

No one is sure how U.S. officials would react to Blueseed if it gets off the ground.

"Homeland Security is simply not going to be wild about foreign nationals living on a foreign flag cruise ship coming and going in the U.S. on a regular basis with the obvious goal of avoiding U.S. laws," University of Washington law professor Craig Allen said.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection declined to comment.

Marty and Mutabdzija have had to navigate the legal and logistical challenges to develop a permanent on-board community outside the territorial waters of the United States - not to mention plenty of eye-rolling.

Marty, Blueseed's chief executive, 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.

Many investors were put off by Blueseed's original proposal of a $50 million Google-like complex equipped with its own helicopter pad, trees and greenery, indoor soccer fields, swimming pools, rock climbing walls, massage therapists and other amenities. Marty and Mutabdzija say they have dramatically downsized that vision.

Blueseed's current plan is to lease - not buy - a cruise ship that could house 1,000 entrepreneurs plus crew. The ship would have cafes, a gym, co-working space, shipwide high-speed Internet access, 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."

Explore further: China's Xiaomi raises more than $1 bn in funding

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User comments : 13

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tscati
4 / 5 (4) Mar 17, 2013
Didn't I read about this a year or two ago?
VendicarE
2.9 / 5 (9) Mar 17, 2013
Another Libertarian/Randite vision that is sinking faster than the Titanic.

Every Libertarian economic plan tried anywhere has ended up being a disaster for the citizens of the country involved, but often a financial gain for the Corporations that pick up the pieces after the disaster.

Libertarian/Randite ignorance knows no bounds.

Ayn Rand ended up a welfare queen after all.

http://www.youtub...a0gEXYaE
kochevnik
3.4 / 5 (5) Mar 17, 2013
" Unlike other countries, the United States offers no specific visa for highly skilled foreigners who want to start a business, Marty said. Eventually many of them return home in frustration or head for countries that entice them with visas and cash."

Untrue. G5 nations like USA offer immediate economic citizenship to persons willing to "invest" a $million

The only employable programmers will be the generic kind. High tech workers for Google, Apple, Intel etc. require very high security and secrecy, which is completely untenable aboard the dorm rooms and bunk beds piling labor slaves into a tiny space. The ship makes an appealing target to displaces US workers with a grudge about losing their six-figure job to some scab who doesn't speak the language. Many techs have military training. They might torpedo the idea, literally. This could end badly
Lurker2358
2.6 / 5 (7) Mar 17, 2013
We don't need more out-sourcing of jobs.

If a company needs an employee with unique skills not aquired in university or tech school, they should train them themselves.

University education in the tech industry is obsolete by the time the person graduates, so it is not possible to expect graduates, or even post-graduates, to be skilled in the exact field a company needs. It's actually absurd that a cutting edge company would expect a university to produce unique skills in cutting edge technology through general education in a classroom or laboratory environment.

You can't expect millions of people to get degrees in highly specialized fields, because they will immediately put one another out of work, and most of them will be screwed, having spent so much money on an education which won't even ultimately benefit them.

The existing education system works for doctors and lawyers. It doesn't work for much else, because you need HANDS ON training.
freethinking
1.3 / 5 (12) Mar 17, 2013
Naaa..... progressives want to make legal immigration as difficult as possible in order to make room for criminal aliens. LEGAL immigrants resent illegals, but if a LEGAL immigrant speaks out they risk being thrown out of the USA.
VendicarE
2.4 / 5 (7) Mar 17, 2013
Don't you agree with the Libertarian CATO insitution that offshoring has been a "financial bonanza" for American Corporations?

"We don't need more out-sourcing of jobs." - Lurker

How do you expect American Corporations to remain profitable if they can't continue to fire American workers and replace them with temporary offshore employees who cost 1/100th what American workers do?

Capitalism demands that employeers employ the lowest bidders in the wage cost auction.
gwrede
1.8 / 5 (5) Mar 17, 2013
Didn't I read about this a year or two ago?
http://phys.org/news243241663.html#nRlv
VendicarE
3 / 5 (8) Mar 17, 2013
I've been reading it every couple of years for the last 2 decades.

Everytime the Libertarian Scam Artists need some money they float the idea to scam some new crop of ideological suckers like RyggTard out of a few hundred thousand.

Feldagast
2.4 / 5 (7) Mar 17, 2013
IF nothing else they can pick the floating plastic and other debris out of the ocean while they are there.
Telekinetic
2.1 / 5 (9) Mar 17, 2013
Altruism, ordinarily a good thing, is being used as a "smoke and mirrors" ploy to evade corporate taxes. Any intellectual property from the ship's think tank bought or licensed by U.S. companies will be tax exempt for the sellers. Max Marty is like "The Joker" in a floating boardroom.
Deadbolt
2.8 / 5 (10) Mar 17, 2013
I've been reading it every couple of years for the last 2 decades.

Everytime the Libertarian Scam Artists need some money they float the idea to scam some new crop of ideological suckers like RyggTard out of a few hundred thousand.


You're such a political zealot. Every post from you I make sure to vote one out of five, just like the posts from nutjob conservatives and libertarians.

Offshore facilities to engage in business or start a new micro-state is not even necessarily libertarian. You could have any sort of political group wanting dependence from a particular government they feel does not represent them. You could have a national communist seastead, or a feminist seastead, or whatever.

This isn't even about that, but about wanting to do business by cleverly according to the law. If the US government doesn't like the consequences of its visa laws, then it can change them.

Until then you can sneer all you like.
dav_daddy
1.3 / 5 (12) Mar 17, 2013
Every Libertarian economic plan tried anywhere has ended up being a disaster for the citizens of the country involved, but often a financial gain for the Corporations that pick up the pieces after the disaster.

Libertarian/Randite ignorance knows no bounds.


You truly have no idea what you are talking about as usual. Why don't you go find out what the Libertarian movement is really all about? Of course then you would lose your bogey man, and we all know that Socialists/Communists always have to have a good bogey man. How else can you dupe otherwise rational intelligent people to surrender their freedoms abandon logic and allow the gov't to control their lives.

As to your original falsehood you can see how successful your version of the economy works displayed prominently in Greece, Italy, and Spain.
VendicarE
2.3 / 5 (3) Mar 18, 2013
Day Daddy had the chance to name a single Libertraian originated economic plan that hasn't been a disaster.

He failed.

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