BOULDER, Colo. – Home to the University of Colorado, Google offices and a burgeoning tech scene, Boulder is also headquarters for a young nonprofit that’s working to keep talented entrepreneurs in the United States.
Global EIR Coalition – EIR stands for “entrepreneur in residence” – helps startup founders obtain H-1B visas, which are given to highly-skilled workers and are often the only way for a foreign-born entrepreneur to keep working here.
Unlike other countries, such as Canada, there is no specific visa category for startups in the United States and that’s a problem, says Craig Montuori, Global EIR’s co-founder and executive director.
“The United States is where startups are grown and succeed,” Montuori said. If founders can’t stay here to get their businesses off the ground, they’ll take them and the potential jobs elsewhere.
“If the founder’s gone, the company’s gone, the investment’s gone, the jobs are gone,” Montuori said.
It’s not easy to get an H-1B visa. The federal government doles out 85,000 of them every year and in 2016, three times that many people applied. The visas are handed out via a lottery system and even if an applicant is accepted, it could be months before they can even use the visa.
Because startups can live or die in the time it takes to wait for a visa decision, Global EIR aims to help foreign entrepreneurs legally side-step the lottery and the 85,000 cap to get their visas.
To do this, the organization partners with universities around the country, including CU Boulder. Under the H-1B program, foreign workers who are employed by or sponsored by a college or university are exempt from the lottery and cap.
A startup founder can become a part-time employee of the university and provide mentorship to students, or the university can help the startup by providing student interns.
Critics of Global EIR’s tactics and the H-1B cap exemption say it’s exploiting a loophole in the law to take jobs away from American workers.
President Donald Trump has expressed a desire to change the H-1B program and last month, a bipartisan bill was introduced that would do away with the lottery system and make other changes that aim to curb “abuse” of the system.
The 85,000-visa cap still applies to employees, Montuori said, and Global EIR isn’t out to change that. The organization’s goal is to keep people here who have been educated in the U.S. and who can build businesses that ultimately employ Americans.
“These are job creators,” Montuori said. “We only work with entrepreneurs.”
“If you consider the next Mark Zuckerberg, she’s going to be a person out of a college dorm room, [and] if Global EIR doesn’t exist for her, she’s going to go home to start that business.”
Global EIR currently has 13 universities in its network, with plans to add five Chicago universities in the fall.
As the company works to expand its network of partner universities, Global EIR also has spent the last three months going through the Techstars Boulder business accelerator program, and Montuori said it’s the first nonprofit to do so.
Global EIR and the other businesses in the program will present their companies to investors and the public on Demo Day on Wednesday, April 19.
The event will take place at the Boulder Theater and it is open to the public.