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February 22, 2019
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Why Silicon Valley needs more visas

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When I hear protesters shout, “Immigrants are welcome here!” at the San Francisco immigration office near my startup’s headquarters, I think about how simple a phrase that is for a topic that is so nuanced, especially for me as an immigrant entrepreneur.

Growing up in Brazil, I am less familiar with the nuances of the American debate on immigration legislation, but I know that immigrants here add a lot of jobs and stimulate the local economy. As an immigrant entrepreneur, I’ve tried to check all of those boxes, and really prove my value to this country.

My tech startup Brex has achieved a lot in a short period of time, a feat which is underscored by receiving a $1 billion dollar valuation in just one year. But we didn’t achieve that high level of growth in spite of being founded by immigrants, but because of it. The key to our growth and to working towards building a global brand is our international talent pool, without it, we could never have gotten to where we are today.

So beyond Brex, what do the most successful Silicon Valley startups have in common? They’re also run by immigrants. In fact, not only are 57% of the Bay Area’s STEM tech workers immigrants, they also make up 25% of business founders in the US. You can trace the immigrant entrepreneurial streak in Silicon Valley from the founders of SUN Microsystems and Google to the Valley’s most notorious Twitter User, Tesla’s Elon Musk.

Immigrants not only built the first microchips in Silicon Valley, but they built these companies into the tech titans that they are known as today. After all, more than 50% of billion dollar startups are founded by immigrants, and many of those startups were founded by immigrants on H-1B visas.

Photo courtesy of Flickr/jvoves

While it might sound counterintuitive, immigrants create more jobs and make our economy stronger. Research from the National Foundation of American Policy (NFAP) has shown that immigrant-founded billion-dollar companies doubled their number of employees over the past two years. According to the research, “WeWork went from 1,200 to 6,000 employees between 2016 and 2018, Houzz increased from 800 to 1,800 employees the last two years, while Cloudflare went from 225 to 715 employees.”

We’ve seen the same growth at Brex. In just one year we hired 70 employees and invested over $6 million dollars in creating local jobs. Our startup is not alone, as Inc. recently reported, “50 immigrant-founded unicorn startups have a combined value of $248 billion, according to the report [by NFAP], and have created an average of 1,200 jobs each.”

One of the fundamental drivers of our success is our international workforce. Many of our key-hires are from all over Latin America, spanning from Uruguay to Mexico. In fact, 42% of our workforce is made up of immigrants and another 6% are made up of children of immigrants. Plenty of research shows that diverse teams are more productive and work together better, but that’s only part of the reason why you should bet on an international workforce. When you’re working with the best and brightest from every country, it inspires you to bring forth your most creative ideas, collaborate, and push yourself beyond your comfort zone. It motivates you to be your best.

With all of the positive contributions immigrants bring to this country, you’d think we’d have less restrictive immigration policies. However, that’s not the case. One of the biggest challenges that I face is hiring experienced, qualified engineers and designers to continue innovating in a fast-paced, competitive market.

This is a universal challenge in the tech industry. For the past 10 years, software engineers have been the #1 most difficult job to fill in the United States. Business owners are willing to pay 10-20 percent above the market rate for top talent and engineers. Yet, we’re still projected to have a shortage of two million engineering jobs in the US by 2022. How can you lead the charge of innovation if you don’t have the talent to do it?

What makes matters worse is that there are so few opportunities and types of visas for qualified immigrants. This is limiting job growth, knowledge-sharing, and technological breakthroughs in this country. And we risk losing top talent to other nations if we don’t loosen our restrictive visa laws.

H1-B visa applications fell this year, and at the same time, these visas have become harder to obtain and it has become more expensive to acquire international talent. This isn’t the time to abandon the international talent pool, but to invest in highly specialized workers that can give your startup a competitive advantage.

Already, there’s been a dramatic spike in engineering talent moving to Canada, with a 40% uptick in 2017. Toronto, Berlin, and Singapore are fastly becoming burgeoning tech hubs, and many fear (rightfully) that they will soon outpace the US in growth, talent, and developing the latest technologies.

This year, U.S. based tech companies generated $351 billion of revenue in 2018. The U.S. can’t afford to miss out on this huge revenue source. And, according to Harvard Business School Professor William R. Kerr and the author of The Gift of Global Talent: How Migration Shapes Business, Economy & Society, “Today’s knowledge economy dictates that your ability to attract, develop, and integrate smart minds governs how prosperous you will be.”

Immigrants have made Silicon Valley the powerhouse that it is today, and severely limiting highly-skilled immigration benefits no-one. Immigrants have helped the U.S. build one of the best tech hubs in the world— now is the time for startups to invest in international talent so that our technology, economy, and local communities can continue to thrive.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Shopify opens its first brick-and-mortar space in Los Angeles

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Shopify, the provider of payment and logistics management software and services for retailers, has opened its first physical storefront in Los Angeles.

The first brick and mortar location for the Toronto-based company, is nestled in a warren of downtown Los Angeles boutique shops in a complex known as the Row DTLA.

For Shopify, Los Angeles is the ideal place to debut a physical storefront showing off the company’s new line of hardware products and the array of services it provides to businesses ranging from newly opened startups to $900 million juggernauts like the Kylie Cosmetics brand.

The city is one of the most dense conglomerations of Shopify customers with over 10,000 merchants using the company’s technologies in the greater Los Angeles area. 400 of those retailers have each earned over $1 million in gross merchandise volume.

In the Los Angeles space, which looks similar to an Apple store, patrons can expect to see demonstrations and tutorials of how Shopify’s tools and features work. Showrooms displaying the work that Shopify does with some of its close partners will also show how business owners can turn their product visions into actual businesses.

Like Apple, Shopify is staffing its store with experts on the platform who can walk new customers or would-be customers through whatever troubleshooting they may need. While also serving as a space to promote large and small vendors using its payment and supply management solution.

“Our new space in downtown LA is a physical manifestation of our dedication and commitment to making commerce better for everyone. We’re thrilled to be able to take our proven educational, support, and community initiatives and put them to work in an always-on capacity,” said Satish Kanwar, VP of Product at Shopify, in a statement. “We know that making more resources available to entrepreneurs, especially early on, makes them far more likely to succeed, and we’re happy to now be offering that through a brick-and-mortar experience in LA.”

Kanwar and Shopify chief operating officer, Harley Finkelstein, envision the new Los Angeles space as another way to support new and emerging retailers looking for tips on how to build their business in the best possible way.

“The path to being your own boss doesn’t need to be lonely or isolating,” said Finkelstein, in a statement. “With Shopify LA we wanted to create a hub where business owners can find support, inspiration, and community. Most importantly, entrepreneurs at all stages and of all sizes can learn together, have first access to our newest products, and propel their entrepreneurial dreams.”

News Source = techcrunch.com

Women-only co-working space The Wing is launching an app to help its members stay connected

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The Wing is bringing the physical world it’s created for professional women to the digital world with the launch of a social networking app, slated to become available later this month.

The co-working company created the app to connect its members and keep them up to date on The Wing’s programming. For now, the app will only be available to paying Wing members.

“Our team has been hard at work on ways for members to carry the connections they make with them wherever they go,” The Wing co-founder and CEO Audrey Gelman told TechCrunch. “Through the app, members will have access to features that make The Wing experience even more valuable and efficient and will have access to thousands of incredible women at their fingertips.”

Founded in 2016, The Wing provides co-working and community space to women. It’s raised $40 million in venture capital backing from top-tier investors like Kleiner Perkins and NEA. WeWork has also noticed the value in The Wing’s female-first model; the co-working behemoth led its $32 million Series B last November. As it stands, the company has just four locations in two states: New York and Washington, DC. A San Francisco location is expected this October, and West Hollywood, London, Toronto, Seattle and Chicago locations are all in the pipeline.

To enjoy The Wing’s many perks—brass & millennial pink decor, shelves of color-coordinated books and exclusive access to events featuring Hillary Clinton or New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, for example—it’s not cheap. Wing members pay $215 per month for access to a single location. But compare that to the price of a desk at a San Francisco WeWork, about $400, and it’s not so bad.

The Wing also provides lactation rooms, “beauty rooms,” a library, food and drinks, and more.

In addition to being founded by two women, Gelman and Lauren Kassan, the company also boasts an all-female staffa rarity for a company backed by venture capitalists. That includes Lina Dorkhman, who The Wing hired six months ago to lead development on the app. She’d spent the last 3.5 years at BlackRock as an associate.

“I was actually a member first and when I saw that they were hiring a product manager I thought it was a perfect fit,” Dorkhman told me.

She says The Wing wanted to create a product that recognized women as not only professionals, or parents or friends or siblings, but all of those things.

“With products like Linkedin, there is this separation of this is my personal self and my professional self,” Dorkhman said. “What we see at The Wing is there isn’t necessarily a separation of your personal self and your professional self. We want to acknowledge that—that is the future of work. You bring your whole self to work.”

The idea for the app stemmed from member feedback, which asked that the company provide more digital components.

“We hear from our members that there is this really special feeling of entering The Wing,” Dorkhman added. “That feeling that you get in the physical space is something we really wanted to translate into the product.”

News Source = techcrunch.com

Sidewalk Labs could pilot city-changing tech in Toronto sooner than you think

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Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs smart city subsidiary is working with the city of Toronto to help plan a brand new community, but nothing’s set in stone on that front yet, with a 12-month lead-up period during which they’ll work out the project and make sure all involved agree to move forward. But that doesn’t mean Sidewalk has to wait at least a year to start exploring how some of its work might be applied in practice to Toronto proper and the city’s workings.

On stage at Google’s Go North conference in Toronto today, Sidewalk Labs CEO Dan Doctoroff explained that while the plan to build a model smart city in Toronto in the city’s waterfront Quayside area remains in the preparatory phase, there are other things that Sidewalk can do right now to begin implementing some of its work in the area.

Sidewalk is talking about how to implement these more immediately with the city, and they could include pilots that focus on traffic mitigation (perhaps in the “Queen’s Quay” area, which is also down by the waterfront, Doctoroff said) as well as potentially transplanting some of the ideas it’s experimenting with around health care based on a pilot clinic just opened in NYC.

Doctoroff also referred to a “new transportation flow modelling concept” that Sidewalk believes can be beneficial to public transit agencies immediately, and that could come to Toronto soon.

All of the above ideas are not things specific to the long-term plan to develop the 12-acre piece of land begin called Quaside on a section of Toronto’s Port Lands. In fact, Doctoroff said that in terms of timing for these smaller pilots, “we can start those right now,” or at least “relatively soon.”

News Source = techcrunch.com

Justin Trudeau explains why Canada really ‘gets’ AI and smart cities

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At Google’s Go North event today in Toronto, which features a slate of speakers focused primarily on artificial intelligence, Alphabet chairman Eric Schmidt spoke to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (and actually asked him some tough questions on NAFTA negotiations and his feelings about Trump, surprisingly). Trudeau talked a lot about the Canadian perspective on innovation, and about why Canada is doing so well with regards to acting as a hub for research and development around artificial intelligence in general.

“I just think Canadians realize better than most that there is an opportunity here,” Trudeau began, also nothing that this extends not only to the innovation side, but also to the “consequences of AI, the consequences of automation,” and the “economic imbalance of those who own the robots and those who are displaced by them.”

Trudeau explained that while he has no specific foresight in terms of where technological progress with artificial intelligence is taking us, he believes it’s not up to the Canadian government to “pick winners,” but that instead that it is their role to say that they’re going to “invest in quantum, we’re gonna invest in AI, we’re going to invest in robotics, we’re going to invest in high-value, innovative, creative, groundbreaking areas” that match the Canadian education system and the country’s entrepreneurial values.

He added that Canada has a drive to search for a way to “be relevant in a positive way on the world stage,” and that AI fits with that goal, as does investment in other high-tech areas.

Schmidt pointed out that Canada also has notably different strategies when it comes to encouraging an atmosphere of innovation, and that includes specific policies around immigration. Trudeau took the opportunity to talk about the similarities between the American and Canadian perspective on immigration, and then about where those perspectives diverge.

The Prime Minister noted that immigrants have been important to both countries, but that Canada realizes it continues to be important, and is in fact of growing importance in an increasingly global economy. He also explained that immigrants tend to be particularly well-suited to contributing to the growth of the economy specifically in the area of innovation.

“People choosing to move to a new place are self-selected to be ambitious, forward-thinking, brave, and builders of a better future,” he said. “For someone to choose to do this to ensure their kids have a good life is a big step.”

Trudeau said that Canada realized the need to attract world-class talent to the country hasn’t changed, and that it continues to not only need to “draw in people from around the world, but also to “give them pathways to success,” which will in turn lead to success overall for both their communities and for the economy at large. Those pathways mean the means and opportunity to build out skills necessary to contribute in areas of innovation and economic growth.

Trudeau also spoke on the subject of smart cities, and specifically the project Canada and the city of Toronto are undertaking with Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs to turn a disused portion of Toronto’s waterfront into a new model city of the future. Schmidt asked the PM how Canada came to embrace this idea, in a manner currently unique across nations.

Canadians have a tendency to travel, Trudeau said, and that results in a global outlook on how cities work and their different approaches to things like traffic and how people live in urban environments. The new waterfront project gives Canadians “amazing opportunity to innovate or leapfrog” in urban innovation, since existing cities grew organically into what they are and how they work, for better or for worse, but the new smart city area won’t “be built on the bones of past failure and past successes,” but will instead be developed from a clean slate.

Schmidt also noted that Google and Alphabet are “enormously thankful for inventing all this stuff,” referring specifically to artificial intelligence and deep learning. “We owe you and we remember,” he said.

“We’ll make sure that works out,” Trudeau joked in reply. “We have it on record that Google owes Canada.”

News Source = techcrunch.com

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