Blueseed plans to turn a cruise ship into a floating office park anchored in international waters 12 miles from Silicon Valley, providing a home for technology startups and other entrepreneurs who can't qualify for U.S. work visas.
Blueseed's Floating Business Incubator
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At quick glance, it's the stuff of real estate gold: 360-degree ocean views! Amazing amenities! Catered meals! A 30-minute commute to the heart of Silicon Valley! The location isn't quite ready for occupancy, but it has a select group of residents in mind: High-growth entrepreneurs who want to be close to the technology capital of the world--and the financial capital that funds it.
The address? That's a bit trickier. It's a boat anchored 12 miles off the California coast. Blueseed, the startup behind this marine utopia, hopes to build a community there comprised of the boldest and brightest entrepreneurs from around the globe. But why would the next generation of bright technology minds choose the Pacific Ocean over a, well, normal address?
"There is no work visa for entrepreneurs," said Max Marty, Blueseed's CEO, in an interview. "There is no way for someone who wants to come [to the U.S.] and start their own company to do so legally." H-1B visas must be sponsored by an established U.S. employer; there is no equivalent for a non-U.S. citizen who wants to found the next Google or Intel on American shores. "We're sort of in this ridiculous situation where people want to come here to create companies and technologies and [jobs], but we're not allowing them to do this," Marty said, himself the son of Cuban immigrants.
Blueseed believes it has a solution: A commercial and residential compound that floats just beyond the invisible line that marks international waters, a dozen miles from the harbor in Half Moon Bay, Calif. "Things like visa regulations do not apply to individuals who are out there," Marty said. "You can legally work on [starting] a company, you can earn a paycheck, you can do all of those wonderful things as long as you are at least 12 miles from shore."
This is no free-for-all--among the basic prerequisites for any prospective tenant is a valid B-1 business visa. This allows its holder to spend up to 180 days a year in the United States. While it prohibits employment, it does allow entrepreneurs to meet with potential investors, go to networking events, and conduct other types of business in a perfectly legal manner. A 30-minute ship-to-shore ferry commute will put Blueseed's residents on the road to places like Palo Alto, Mountain View, and San Francisco.
If all goes to plan, though, Marty and his fellow executives believe the real action will occur on board. The flagship has room for some 1,000 entrepreneurs, plus crew members and a host of "enhancers" such as accountants, intellectual-property attorneys, and other consultancies--much like a land-based business incubator might offer. The ship will feature just about every service and amenity you can imagine: Onboard medical services, a concierge, 24-7 security, full-service gym, dining, shopping, and a variety of entertainment options. A certain number of rooms will be set aside as a hotel of sorts for overnight visits from investors, media, musicians and other artists, and similar guests.
Marty envisions Blueseed's own, oceanic version of the famed Google Talks series. He has also met with administrators at UC Berkeley's Haas School of Business to discuss opening a satellite campus on board. In its ideal incarnation, Blueseed will become its own micro-version of Silicon Valley itself, flush with intellectual and financial capital. "The environment on board will be such that people won't want to leave," Marty said.
Blueseed's first critical challenge in achieving that ideal: Like any community, the boat's success will depend on the quality of its resident businesses. Blueseed will have a direct interest in who comes aboard; it's not simply a landlord, but an angel investor at sea. In addition to collecting roughly $1,600 average monthly rent per person--not bad for an oceanfront apartment in the Bay Area--the company will get an equity stake in each of the startups on board.
"It's up to us to help these companies succeed and create an environment that's actually fostering their growth," Marty said. "It makes us want them to grow to the point where, at some later stage in the future, they can have a liquidity event." As a result, the application process will be competitive and may require a referral from a reputable venture capitalist or other investor. Roughly 260 startups have expressed an interest in moving onto the Blueseed boat, which plans to drop anchor in late 2013 or early 2014.
Some types of businesses need not apply--they're not necessarily bad ideas, but they clash with Blueseed's second fundamental challenge, what Marty calls the "managing the entire political apparatus" that comes with their venture.