I spent the last few days at the 7th annual Nantucket Conference (http://www.nantucketconference.com/agenda.html) to chair a VC panel with Todd Dagres of Spark Ventures, Jeff Andrews of Atlas Ventures, Charley Lax of Grandbank Ventures and Mike Greeley of IDG Ventures. I have been an advisor to the conference for several years and it continues to be a "must-attend" venue for VCs and entrepreneurs in New England. One of the keynote speakers this year was Susan Hockfield, President of MIT. I had hosted Susan a year back at www.tieconeast.org when she had just become President of MIT. She has accomplished a lot in a year and I was again impressed by her vision and grasp of details.
Of particular interest to me was her interest in globalization of innovation and MIT's role. She mentioned MIT's lead in Open Courseware (all of MIT's course material is available for free online) which had inspired other universities around the globe to do the same. She also brought up a few facts about innovation and immigrants:
- 60% of US GDP growth since WWII is attributed to technology innovation
- MIT has consistently been rated as the #1 science and engineering college around the world since US News and World Report began scoring and has been instrumental in leading US innovation
- 50% of the faculty of MIT was not born in the US and have driven this innovation
- 8% of undergraduates and 30% of graduate students at MIT are immigrants
- Since 9/11 applications from international students has plummetted as the US has raised the hurdle for student immigrants to get visas
The recent issue of Economist has an article http://www.economist.com/opinion/displaystory.cfm?story_id=E1_GRRNGQS on US immigration policy for knowledge workers. Some excerpts from that article:
- 3,000 technology firms created in Silicon Valley since the 1980s were founded by Indian-American and Chinese-American entrepreneurs (30% of the total firms created in that period)
- Foreign-born college graduates in Australia are 10% of the population, 7.5% in Canada and just 3% in the US. While the US was closing its borders after 9/11 both Australia and Canada actively sought skilled immigrants
I am convinced that the US will maintain economic leadership through the 21st century on the strength of its post-secondary institutions (Harvard's endowment of $25B is certainly more than the sum of endowments of all the universities in Canada and Australia) which attracts the best minds in the world. Attracting and retaining these minds has been hugely beneficial for the US and for the rest of the world. Successful Indian-American entrepreneurs are providing knowledge and capital to entrpreneurial ventures in India and some are even returning to India. US immigration policy needs to be biased towards legal, skilled workers. All the recent focus on illegal immigration is important but as history has shown, disproportionate wealth is created by skilled immigrants.