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 Offshore Startup Incubator
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Blueseed's principals are well aware that the concept of a boat that drops anchor 12 miles offshore so its residents remain exempt from certain laws could ruffle the wrong feathers. Just the word "offshore" generates all sorts of thorny political, economic, and legal connotations.
As a result, transparency is tantamount to Blueseed's success. The company has already turned away some potential tenants simply based on what they do. Anything in the broad industry bucket of "financial services," for example, is a no-go; the mere whiff of tax evasion or other improprieties sends the Blueseed team sprinting in the opposite direction.
"It's very important for us to have a proactive stance in talking to constituencies, policymakers, and everyone who will be affected, so that everybody is very clear about what we're doing," Marty said. "This is for entrepreneurs. This is not for existing companies to go and outsource their employees."
Marty added that Blueseed will be a stopping point rather than an end point. The goal, he said, is to foster the startups until they're large enough that U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services "takes them seriously" and an organization is better equipped to go through the process of becoming a land-based employer. "That is our goal and it's very important to be open and upfront about that because it's such a novel project," Marty said, adding that the early feedback from lawmakers and their staffers has been generally positive.
Marty's right: It's a novel idea, but not one without precedent. The gaming industry took to water, too, from casinos on major cruise lines, to local party boats, to riverboats that don't actually ever leave the dock. All share a common trait: They're able to operate gambling businesses just beyond the jurisdiction of local and federal law. The parallel's not lost on Marty, though he notes many of those businesses do their best to operate in relative secrecy because blackjack and dice, simply put, have an image problem. Blueseed has no interest in a similar PR strategy.
"Because we're doing something that's so novel and in-your-face, we need to be as clean and as free of issues and problems in every other sphere as possible," Marty said. Blueseed is steering clear of anything and everything that might put it in murky legal waters or otherwise raise a regulator's eyebrow. (Prospective tenants should certainly not expect a casino among the onboard attractions.)
Blueseed's stated mission taps into the collective hair-pulling over the American economy. It cites, for example, a variety of stats on how startups create millions of jobs--a smart strategy as the U.S. continues to fret over high unemployment and its place in the world of technology and innovation. On its website, Blueseed points out that the boat itself will become its own economic engine: "We'll create an entirely new supply chain, which will result in new jobs in the area around Blueseed's supply lines and ferry port (Half Moon Bay, California). All these goods are going to come from [the] mainland, not from abroad." The company notes, too, that residents will frequent Bay Area businesses and pay California sales taxes while on land.
And, like any viable startup, Blueseed seeks to fill a market need: Lots of entrepreneurs want to hang their shingle in Silicon Valley but can't simply because of their passport. To be sure, there are plenty of other technology and startup hotbeds, around the U.S. and worldwide. None have quite the same allure
"Silicon Valley is known as the most fertile ground in which to plant the seeds of a startup," Marty said. "Perhaps not the only one, but certainly the best."
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