I had the chance to talk to Nitin Pachisia today about his new venture fund, Unshackled. He and his cofounder have started the investment arm, which focuses on opportunities created by H1B (and other restrictive work visas) entrepreneurs. I have talked about this problem before, but did not realize that it could be a potentially lucrative segment to invest in.
The problem is this. If you are in the US on a work visa that’s restricted (Optional Practical Training or H1B as an example) then leaving the company that “sponsored” your visa is a tough call since your new startup can a) “not pay the salary” you need to get a new H1B or b) other legal restrictions prevent you from leaving your job (your visa sponsor) for your own startup.
Apparently there are 750K restricted work visa holders in the US (and I suspect most if not all are from India and China). Each year, students and professionals who come to the US increase the pool by a few thousand.
If you apply the basic math, then about 10% of these (likely) will be keen to start their own company – about 7500 and that’s the target segment for Unshackled. They are looking to fund about 25 companies via their fund.
The way Nitin and team help get this done (I am simplifying) is to be the company that sponsors the H1B (as Unshackled can) for the entrepreneur. After they raise their funds to be able to sponsor their own visa, then the entrepreneur can leave and “join” their startup they created.
I think it is niche enough and specific enough for most folks to remember what Unshacked does and what they stand for. Nitin mentioned that over 60 investors have already committed to their fund and they were over-subscribed for their current round.
I am personally still trying to figure out if this is a large enough talent pool to get the quality winners that any fund needs, but it is niche enough and specific.
I do remember being in 500 Startups (#500Strong) a year ago, when they had 4 companies from India – Trade Briefs, Instamojo, WalletKit and GazeMetrix were all started by entrepreneurs who were in the US for the 4 month accelerator program on a B1 visa, but had to return to India, because they did not have a visa option to stay in the US.
This would have been an ideal solution for any of those folks.
I think anyone who is on a restricted work visa and is keen to start a tech startup should seriously explore this fund as a great way to get started. Nitin and his co-founder are based in Palo Alto and have setup partnerships with many local funds, legal and accounting agencies and other startup support organizations.