After Donald Trump signed a sweeping executive order restricting immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries, Silicon Valley was left scrambling.
The California-based hotbed for innovation has long benefited from immigration.
Over half (51 percent) of the billion-dollar start-ups created in Silicon Valley were founded by immigrants, while many more are employed by the companies that reside there.
Google said almost 200 of its staff were affected by Trump’s order, while Microsoft said over 70 of its employees were.
Meanwhile, it was revealed US tech investor and Trump advisor Peter Thiel was granted citizenship to New Zealand in 2011 – a place he calls a “utopia” and has invested millions of dollars into via businesses like Xero.
It’s timely, then, that the Edmund Hillary Fellowship (EHF) launched Tuesday in New Zealand.
It’s a programme named after Sir Ed for his boldness by the Hillary Institute for International Leadership and Kiwi Connect, an organisation promoting entrepreneurship in New Zealand.
It’s been created in partnership with Immigration New Zealand to encourage global entrepreneurs, investors and startup teams to New Zealand’s shores to tackle some of the world’s biggest problems.
Sir Edmund Hillary on Mount Everest
Up to 400 are expected to come and work with up to 20 Kiwi entrepreneurs each year, who will benefit from the global network at their fingertips.
Pre-launch, Edmund Hillary Fellowship CEO Yoseph Ayele says the Fellowship had already received over 350 messages of interest from people based in 74 different countries.
While the culturally diverse Silicon Valley frets in the US, Ayele says New Zealand has never been more attractive for international entrepreneurs to start a business.
“What makes New Zealand so attractive is that there’s a high level of tolerance and acceptance and there’s new opportunities for creative people that are hungry and want to build valuable projects. That resonates with people all over the world,” Ayele says.
“It values egalitarianism, conservation, access to healthcare and education across the whole country, religious freedom and anyone can get married.
“All those things really appeal to entrepreneurs because they want to be part of ecosystems that align with their values, but also ecosystems it won’t be hard to recruit for.”
Part of the drawcard of the programme is a new visa created by Immigration New Zealand called the Global Impact Visa, which gives EHF participants a three-year open work visa to live and work in New Zealand and grow a global business.
Eligibility for residence becomes available after 30 months in the programme.
Ayele himself knows of the difficulties of immigration.
Originally from Ethiopia, he has lived abroad in six different countries and co-founded a tech start-up in Silicon Valley.
However, he wasn’t able to get a long-term visa in the US because his academic qualifications didn’t match the immigration database.
“That helped me understand how traditional immigration paths can easily miss what they were set up to achieve,” he says.
The Global Impact Visa is a massive help to international talent looking to immigrate, he says.
“It embraces the brightest and best active global entrepreneurial talent who may not be able to qualify for other visa categories but have the drive, capability and connections to create great value for New Zealand.”
EHF is agnostic about the type of venture candidates want to get into, but their business must tackle a problem that matters and has significance around the world, Ayele says.
“Climate change is a big [problem], inequality and the future of work is another, as a lot of work is being mechanised, as is access to education and disrupting education systems,” he says.
This opens up the opportunity to for profits, not-for-profits and hybrid companies.
Examples of candidates who’ve already applied include a lecturer from Harvard who’s invented solar stoves for rural communities and a couple with over 30 years of experience in space innovation and technology who want to democratise space.
Online applications are open from 31 January 2017 and are open all year.
The EHF will select the first cohort of international and Kiwi candidates by the second half of 2017 and select a new candidate every six months.
Ayele says he hopes it will lead to a lot of new jobs, new ideas and new opportunities for the next generation of New Zealand entrepreneurs.
“We want to create success stories that breed success stories. What you find in a lot of great start-up ecosystems is people that succeed in that ecosystem invest back in where they succeeded. We saw that after the sale of Trade Me and you see what that helped create, so what we’re trying to create with this.”