Craig Montuori is the Executive Director of PolitiHacks, an organization that supports the Start Up Visa Act. Mr. Montuori has agreed to discuss the Start Up Visa Act on this blog site.
Q: Please describe your organization and your role in it.
A: PolitiHacks makes politics suck less for startups. We provide services to the nationwide startup community at the intersection between the political and startup worlds, with our first priority being connecting startup founders with visas to create US jobs and expand the economy.
The startup community is frustrated by the political world, making it difficult to make our voices heard on poorly conceived bills, like the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). I founded PolitiHacks to alleviate this market pain. The issue we’re addressing first is immigration. It seems like every early-stage founder knows someone who has suffered from immigration issues, while investors hate seeing their promising portfolio companies fail due to being stuck in bureaucratic immigration limbo.
By teaching founders how to hack the political system and cut through red tape, we can get the system working better for the American economy, the founders themselves, and their investors. It’s a win for everyone. I take in founding teams with immigration issues and educate them on how they can break through the system to get back to focusing on their product and building a great company. I package press about foreign founders creating US jobs to send off to Capital Hill to raise awareness of the issues. I coordinate with and advise VCs and other startup community VIPs on how to have the maximum political impact for the minimum effort.
PolitiHacks is founded on the principle that the American Dream shouldn’t come with red tape, so we focus on teaching the startup community how to cut through bureaucracy to get things done and solve problems.
Q: Senators John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, along with Senator Mark Udall (D-Colo.), reintroduced the Start Up Visa Act on March 14, 2011. This bill seems like it could create a positive ripple effect on the U.S. economy. Can you tell us exactly what is the status of this bill right now?
A: The bill hasn’t made any movement this year since being introduced, with the first step being to schedule hearings in subcommittee. On the positive side, we’ve gained an additional four Senators (Bennet, D-CO; Gillibrand, D-NY; Landrieu, D-LA; and Warner, D-VA) over the course of this past year. We’ve also seen entrepreneurship become an issue that both parties are fighting to be identified with, which is a clear win for the community, if we can mobilize to act on it in the aftermath of our success with the JOBS Act.
Further, while S.565/the Startup Visa Act of 2011 is stalled, with no legislative momentum behind it for the past year, the solution it represents has been showing up more and more often on Capitol Hill. Startup Visa was endorsed as a part of the President’s comprehensive immigration reform in his El Paso speech on his vision for a 21st century immigration system, and Startup Visa gained a high priority slot in the 2012 State of the Union, along with STEM Green Cards and DREAM Act. In Congress, Rep. Lofgren’s IDEA Act contained an even more expansive vision of the Startup Visa, while Sens. Moran (R-KS) and Warner (D-VA) introduced their Startup Act, including authorizing 75,000 Startup Visas. Politicians in DC are increasingly aware of the economic problems the status quo causes by encouraging some of the best and brightest global talent to start companies and create foreign jobs and competition, while US-educated, foreign founders are begging to do so here in the US, benefiting Americans.
Q: Which Senators or Members of Congress have supported the bill?
A: Direct supporters for S565/HR1114 include: S. 565
- Sen. John Kerry (D-MA)
- Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN)
- Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO)
- Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO)
- Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)
- Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA)
- Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA)
- Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY14)
- Rep. Bill Owens (D-NY23)
- Rep. Michael Capuano (D-MA8)
- Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR3)
However, Zoe Lofgren’s HR2161/IDEA Act containing the Startup Visa Act 2010 plus a new “self-starter” EB-5-like “create 10 jobs, get a green card” provision has 25 sponsors: H.R. 2161
Likewise, S.1965/Startup Act also has the support of Sen. Blunt (R-MO), in addition to sponsors Sen. Moran (R-KS) and Warner (D-VA). That bill contains the Startup Visa Act of 2010 with required capital reduced to the levels set by the Startup Visa Act of 2011 and creating 75,000 new visas: S. 1965
Q: What advocacy steps would you recommend to supporters of this bill?
A: First and foremost, organize. Sign up for Startup Digest, find the local founder groups whose events interest you, and start attending. It’ll not only make you a stronger entrepreneur by exposing you to startup best practices, it’ll also plug you into the startup network, letting you have a political impact without taking time away from building a great company. If you want to do more, great!
Invite your local Congressional representative to the startup meetups. The Rep’s district staffers will attend to meet their boss’s constituents, and the more we can introduce DC to our culture and the frustrations that DC can alleviate, the more responsive they will be.
Developing a relationship with congressional staffers is an easy 10x hack to improve your effectiveness at advocating for the Startup Visa. There are two types of congressional staffers: district/local and DC/issue. For the local staffers, add them to your distribution list for your startup’s press releases, since they’ve got incentives to cheer your successes, as you contribute to the local economy and eventually create jobs. For the DC staffers, we are specifically interested in identifying immigration staffers for Startup Visa advocacy.
If you’ve got four minutes, follow these instructions to help. In the future, others can follow in your footsteps to reach out directly to the staffer and circumvent what I call the intern firewall to make a more meaningful contact. I offer non-traditional methods of advocating because we’re a bunch of hackers who can have a greater impact by not playing the traditional DC game. We’re small in number but can have an outsized impact.
Q: Which Senators or Members of Congress need to support the bill to ensure its passage?
If we want to pass the bill before the end of 2012, the House comes down to one man: Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX21). Based out of Austin, Smith is the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, which oversees immigration. While Rep. Elton Gallegly is the Immigration subcommittee chairman, Rep. Smith has handled immigration issues personally, as is his prerogative as Chairman. In the Senate, that role is filled by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT). The Immigration subcommittee chair is Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY). Schumer is also the no. 2 Dem, in charge of messaging, making him a very important individual to win over.
Additionally, leadership in both chambers are important ‘gets’ to seeing the bill advance and gain momentum, since like A-list VCs, they signal to other elected officials. Reps. Eric Cantor, Paul Ryan, and Kevin McCarthy, the Young Guns, are senior Republican leadership in the House. Rep. Cantor’s opposition to SOPA signaled that bill’s death in the House, and as the group has reached out to Silicon Valley. In the Senate, Sen. Reid (D-NV) is responsible for determining the calendar, which can speed up or completely stall a bill. We need to secure at least the non-opposition of his office to succeed.
Some additional Representatives and Senators represent key milestones whose support will show that progress is being made: Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) has been the traditional champion of the tech world, as a senior member of the Judiciary Committee, as demonstrated by her opposition to SOPA. Her support would be a key milestone for the viability of the bill in the House, as she is the ranking member of the Immigration Subcommittee of Judiciary. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) is another member of Congress who worked with the tech world in fighting SOPA. He would be a key member to work with in crafting a bill that can pass Congress and be implemented. Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), currently running for Senate, has been supporting a STEM Green Card bill, called the STAPLE Act. His support might demonstrate a potential coalition around these two similar issues.