“I’ve always dreamed of moving to the United States and building my company here,” says Damian Nowak, the Polish co-founder and CEO of Virtkick, a startup that helps businesses set up their own cloud-hosting networks.
This dream became a reality when Virtkick became one of 10 companies selected—of 1,100 that applied—to join TechStars, a prestigious startup accelerator. In January 2015, Nowak and his co-founder, Damian Kaczmarek, moved from Poland to San Antonio to join the TechStars program. The pair settled quickly into life in the Lone Star State, where they are known as the “Polish cowboys” for their trademark cowboy hats and boots.
Today, Virtkick is composed of four full-time employees in San Antonio and five contractors in Poland and Romania. Nowak obtained an investor visa, which allows foreign nationals from some countries to work for a U.S.-based business in which they have made a substantial investment. “It was relatively easy to get the visa because we’d already fundraised about $1 million by the time we applied,” he says. But Nowak realizes that this is not the case for everyone. “It’s really difficult for companies who haven’t yet raised large sums of money to get an investor visa,” he says. In addition to the hefty investment fee, only citizens of countries that have a bilateral investment treaty with the United States qualify for the visa.
Nowak believes that the obstacles immigrant-founded startups face when trying to move to the United States—including the difficulty of obtaining visas—stifle innovation and economic growth. “If American investors are willing to invest $100,000 in a foreign startup, the company should be able to easily relocate to the United States,” Nowak says.
Nowak believes that the obstacles immigrant-founded startups face when trying to move to the United States—including the difficulty of obtaining visas—stifle innovation and economic growth
Because Nowak and his team have successfully navigated the U.S. immigration system, they are able to dream up big plans for the future. In the next five years, Nowak plans to expand his company dramatically. “Ultimately, we want to build a federation of online hosts that will beat Microsoft, Google, and Amazon in the hosting market,” Nowak says. “We’re going to democratize the hosting business—and there’s no better place than America to do this.”