AUSTIN, Texas: South By Southwest Interactive is often a foreign entrepreneur’s introduction to the United States market.
Once the collaborative glow of the conference fades, however, a would-be entrepreneur can face a series of hurdles, starting with how to stay here legally.
“They assume they can hop on a plane and do their thing,” said Austin immigration lawyer Dan Kowalski.
“But it’s likely to take longer, be more complicated and more expensive than people realize,” he added.
That was echoed at several SXSW Interactive panels for foreign entrepreneurs.
Some first came with student or tourist visas, others with jobs at American corporations arrived here with H-1B papers and eventually got green cards. Some came as an E2 Treaty Investor while others had overseas companies that created a US subsidiary.
The path to creating a company in the US depends on the amount they can invest, what kind of business it is, and their home country, Kowalski said.
“Actually getting over here is quite a challenge,” said John Edge, chief executive officer of Red Rose Global, a successful United Kingdom startup.
Edge talked about the stress of creating a business while dealing with living in the US. He recalled sleeping on friends’ couches and being hospitalized twice for exhaustion.
One issue is just the size of the country.
As Edge sized up the opportunities in the US, he said he focused on the East Coast for his financial tech company. Overlooking the West Coast might have been a mistake, Edge said, but he added, “The East Coast alone was bigger than the whole of the United Kingdom.”
Edge also suggested that entrepreneurs should look at their home countries for help.
“Find a person in your home country who’s had a successful startup in the US,” he said.
Edge said he also overlooked aid from the United Kingdom government.
Caitlin McGill with the British Consulate-General in Houston said the United Kingdom has nine offices in the US with programs to assist Brits trying to start a company in the US.
She said the British consulate can introduce entrepreneurs to investors, help them decide where to locate and aid with visas.
“We just have on-the-ground knowledge for them,” she said.
A public company eventually bought Edge’s firm.
Austin lawyer Carmelo Gordian urged would-be entrepreneurs to structure their countries for a successful exit.
He said most startups backed by venture capitalists are legally created in Delaware, because the laws there favor board members, including venture capitalists who would sit on a startup’s board.
“It’s a very short list of investors who will invest in foreign companies,” Gordian said.
He suggested using the National Venture Capital Association’s directory of venture capital firms to study what kind of investors might invest.
To find investors, Gordian also suggested looking at the board of directors of a company in the same field as the entrepreneur’s startup.
“Who’s investing in companies that look like yours?” Gordian said.
MCT Information Services