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Expired Visa? Babson Wants To Help

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Babson College will be the first private school to offer a program that helps entrepreneurs with expiring visas stay in the country.

The Global Entrepreneur in Residence (GEIR) program, announced yesterday (June 15), will be run through the Arthur M. Blank Center for Entrepreneurship and will function like a start-up accelerator, Babson College President Kerry Healey says. The program also will allow newly graduated international students to qualify for an H-1B visa cap exception.

H-1B visas allow foreign workers with technical or theoretical skills to be employed in the U.S., but each year only 85,000 of the visas are available, and hundreds of thousands from around the world apply.

TAKING ADVANTAGE OF H-1B CAP EXCEPTIONS 

Healey says while there are many areas where immigration reform is needed, the H-1B process is the one most important for our economy because many qualified employees can’t immigrate here, and many excellent international students are forced to leave after they graduate.

But there are exceptions to the H-1B cap. One allows an unlimited number of the visas to be issued to entrepreneurs working on start-ups, as long as they are affiliated with a college or university.

The first program like Babson’s GEIR was established at the University of Massachusetts by the Massachusetts legislature. Through that program, Healey points out, nine entrepreneurs were able to get visas, and they created nearly 200 jobs and brought millions of dollars to the region in new investments.

For its first year, Babson will host 10 entrepreneurs working on start-ups. Eligible candidates for the program are recently graduated students who are about to enter their Optional Practical Training period — the one year after graduation when international students are allowed to stay in the country sans H-1B visa.

“It’s give and take,” Healey says. “We can bring an unlimited number of people here as long as they’re starting their businesses, their businesses are viable, and they’re willing to contribute to Babson as mentors or teachers for our undergraduate students.”

ENTREPRENEURS ARE EAGER TO APPLY

Entrepreneurs accepted to the program will work on their businesses in an accelerator-like environment from September to April, Healey says. At this time, mentors will coach them and make sure their businesses meet all the requirements to get H-1B visas. In April, the school will walk them through the visa application process.

One recently graduated Babson MBA student, Abhinav Sureka, says he is eager to apply. An international student from India, he founded a company with two of his classmates while working on his MBA.

The company, Teplo, has designed a “smart” bottle for tea-drinkers. The bottle can track and control brewing temperature and time via a mobile app. Once the tea is brewed, the bottle also contains a rechargeable battery that keeps the beverage at the perfect temperature.

‘IT’S ALWAYS IN THE BACK OF OUR HEADS — WHAT IF WE DON’T GET VISAS?’ 

So far, Sureka and his co-founders have raised $73,000 through a Kickstarter campaign, but all three were international students — now that they’ve graduated, they may not be able to work on the company if they’re denied visas.

“We don’t talk about it right now, because we can’t do anything about it,” Sureka says. “But it’s always in the back of our heads. What if we don’t get the H-1B visas?”

Sureka says all three will be applying for the new GEIR program. “It’s an amazing initiative by Babson,” he says. “Fingers crossed that we get it.”

Healey says Babson is trying to be conservative by planning for just 10 entrepreneurs in the first year, but the school definitely intends to scale over time.

“It’s estimated that thousands of entrepreneurs leave Massachusetts every year because they’re unable to receive visas,” she says. “We feel there’s a lot of untapped potential there.”