Bryan O’Connell, from Limerick, Ireland is the founder of FirstLine, a consumer-oriented healthcare mobile application. FirstLine’s mission is to reduce the friction and cost involved for consumers attempting to access a primary care physician. Bryan received his MBA from Harvard Business School but due to stringent visa regulations, initially based the company in Ireland, with his team working remotely from the United States. However, he recently moved back to the US, as the first Global Entrepreneur in Residence (GEIR) at the UMass Boston Venture Development Center (VDC), and is in process of bringing FirstLine to Boston.
Global Entrepreneur in Residence Program
With the pilot GEIR program this fall, Massachusetts became the first state to pass an initiative helping foreign entrepreneurs who graduated from a Massachusetts university bypass the H-1B visa quota. The H-1B is the most popular visa for highly-skilled foreigners and has an annual quota of 85,000. This year, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services filled its visa spots just five business days after it started accepting applications. But those who are sponsored by a nonprofit research institution are exempt from this cap. By partnering with universities, the GEIR program uses that provision to help foreign student entrepreneurs to stay in the U.S. and launch their startup companies. The GEIR program, administered by the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, was part of the 2014 Economic Development Bill that passed in early August (it will receive $3 million from the state).
Massachusetts’ International Student’s Dilemma
International students like Bryan are already drawn to Massachusetts universities in near record numbers, according to a recent report from Brookings and JPMorgan Chase. At present, there are 46,000 foreign college students enrolled at institutions in Massachusetts.
“The current system, where our academic institutions train the best and brightest around the world and then they’re told we don’t want them to stay, is absolutely insane,” said Jeff Bussgang, of Flybridge Capital Partners, in a Fortune article.
Massachusetts Housing and Economic Development Secretary Greg Bialecki added: “Massachusetts is a state where people see many tangible examples about how immigrants are fueling our economy and creating jobs.”
Indeed, upon arrival at the VDC, Bryan began laying the groundwork for hiring UMass Boston computer science and marketing students once the company is fully up and running in Boston (which should be within the next few weeks). He’s also bringing on a team of Boston-based primary care physicians, physician assistants and nurse practitioners. (Any that are interested should email firstname.lastname@example.org).
The Plus Side of Stagnant Immigration Reform
If immigration reform continues to languish at the federal level, other states could follow Massachusetts’ lead in addressing the exodus of entrepreneurial graduates. But federal immigration reform would have a much larger impact on the problem and could free entrepreneurs up to focus on their ventures.