Dear Sophie: Which immigration options are the fastest?

Here’s another edition of “Dear Sophie,” the advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at technology companies.

“Your questions are vital to the spread of knowledge that allows people all over the world to rise above borders and pursue their dreams,” says Sophie Alcorn, a Silicon Valley immigration attorney. “Whether you’re in people ops, a founder or seeking a job in Silicon Valley, I would love to answer your questions in my next column.”

Extra Crunch members receive access to weekly “Dear Sophie” columns; use promo code ALCORN to purchase a one- or two-year subscription for 50% off.

Dear Sophie:

Help! Our startup needs to hire 50 engineers in artificial intelligence and related fields ASAP. Which visa and green card options are the quickest to get for top immigrant engineers?

 And will Biden’s new immigration bill help us?

— Mesmerized in Menlo Park

Dear Mesmerized,

I’m getting this question quite frequently now as more and more startups with recent funding rounds are looking to quickly expand. In the latest episode of my podcast, I discuss some of the quickest visa categories for startups to consider when they need to add talent quickly.

As always, I suggest consulting with an experienced immigration lawyer who can help you quickly strategize and implement an efficient and cost-effective hiring and immigration plan. An immigration lawyer will also be up to date on any immigration policy changes and plans in the event that the Biden administration’s U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 passes. It was introduced in the House and Senate this month.

That proposed legislation would enable more international talent to come to the U.S. for jobs and clear employment-based visa backlogs, among other things. Given the legislation’s substantial benefits offered to employers, I encourage your startup — and other companies — to let congressional representatives know you support it.

A composite image of immigration law attorney Sophie Alcorn in front of a background with a TechCrunch logo.

Image Credits: Joanna Buniak / Sophie Alcorn (opens in a new window)

Given that most U.S. embassies and consulates remain at limited capacity for routine visa and green card processing due to the pandemic, it is generally quicker to hire American and international workers who are already in the U.S. Although U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is experiencing substantial delays in processing cases due to the coronavirus, as well as an increase in applications, Premium Processing is currently available for most employment-based petitions. We are still able to support many folks with U.S. visa appointment scheduling at consulates abroad using various national interest strategies.

With all of that in mind, here are the visa categories that offer the quickest way to hire international talent.

H-1B transfers

Hiring individuals by transferring their H-1B to your startup can be completed in a couple of months with premium processing. Premium processing is an optional service that for a fee guarantees USCIS will process the petition within 15 calendar days.

What’s more, H-1B transferees can start working for your startup even before USCIS has issued a receipt notice or made a decision in the case. You just need to make sure that USCIS received the petition, which is why I always recommend sending all packages to USCIS with tracking.

Premium processing can help to get a digital receipt as the paper receipts are often backlogged. I stopped suggesting this route during the Trump administration, but am feeling more comfortable providing it as an option under the Biden administration. The H-1B is the only type of visa that allows somebody to start working upon the filing of a transfer application.

Startups – TechCrunch

ErudiFi raises $5 million Series A to give students in Southeast Asia more education financing options

Based in Singapore, ErudiFi wants to help more students in Southeast Asia stay in school by giving them affordable financing options. The startup announced today it has raised a $ 5 million Series A, co-led by Monk’s Hill Ventures and Qualgro.

ErudiFi currently works with more than 50 universities and vocational schools in Indonesia and the Philippines. Co-founder and chief executive officer Naga Tan told TechCrunch that students in those countries have limited financing options, and often rely on friends or family, or informal payday lenders that charge high interest rates.

To provide more accessible financing options, ErudiFi partners with accredited universities and schools to offer subsidized installment plans, using tech to scale up while keeping costs down. Interest rates and repayment terms vary between institutions, but can be as low as 0%, with loans payable in 12 to 24 months.

By providing their students with affordable financing plans, ErudiFi can increase retention rates at schools, helping them keep students who would otherwise be forced to drop out because of financial issues.

Tan said ErudiFi’s value proposition for educational institutions is “being able to offer a data-driven financing solution that helps with student recruitment and retention. Students also greatly benefit because our product is one of the few, if not the only, affordable financing option they have access to.”

In a press statement, Peng T. Ong, co-founder and managing partner of Monk’s Hill Ventures, said, “Access to affordable tertiary education remains a huge pain point in Southeast Asia where the cost is nearly double then the average GDP per capita. ErudiFi is tackling an underserved market that is plagued with high-interest rates by traditional financial institutions and limited reach from peer-to-peer lending companies.”

ErudiFi’s Series A will be used on hiring for its product and engineering teams and to expand in Indonesia and the Philippines.

Startups – TechCrunch

EquityBee raises $20M to help startup employees actually afford their stock options

EquityBee, a stock option marketplace startup, has raised $ 20 million in a Series A round of funding.

Group 11 led the financing, which also included participation from Oren Zeev Ventures, Battery Ventures and ICON Continuity Fund. It brings the company’s total raised to over $ 28 million since its 2018 inception.

EquityBee CEO and co-founder Oren Barzilai says his company’s mission is to help educate startup employees on the meaning of their stock options, as well as provide them with funds to be able to purchase them.

“I have seen many of my friends and colleagues negotiate a $ 500 salary increase, but completely disregard their stock options package, from lack of knowledge due to the whole field of startup stock options being opaque,” said Barzilai, who also founded Tapingo, which was acquired by Grubhub in 2018 for $ 150 million. “As a founder I saw my team members who helped build the company not take part in our success because they left prematurely and didn’t exercise their stock options.”

The way it works is fairly straightforward. EquityBee provides capital to startup employees so they can purchase stock options. The employees get money to cover the cost of exercising their stock options and the taxes. The investors who helped provide the funding so they could do that get a return, or a share of the profit, if there’s “a liquidity event.” EquityBee makes money by charging an upfront fee from the investor on the investment day, as well as any carried interest upon a successful exit or IPO.

Barzilai said that many employees don’t realize they have about 90 days to exercise options before they expire once they leave a company. And even if they do, they may not always have the money to exercise them. That’s where EquityBee wants to help.

The company was originally founded in Israel before launching in the U.S. market, and moved its headquarters to Silicon Valley in February 2020. Since then, it’s funded employees from “hundreds” of companies, including Airbnb, Palantir, DoorDash and Unity, with capital provided by family offices, funds and high-net individuals. Its investor community is made up of 8,000 funds, family offices and high-net worth individuals.

2020 was a good year for EquityBee, according to Barzilai, who says it grew by more than 560% the amount of money it raised to fund employee stock options. It also saw a 360% increase in the number of individual employees funded through its platform.

Looking ahead, the 33-person company plans to use the money toward hiring and expanding product offerings.

Dovi Frances, founding partner of Group 11, said it doubled down on EquityBee after backing the company in its $ 6.6 million funding round in February 2020 because it’s impressed by what it described as the company’s “perfect product market fit” and triple-digit growth.

WeWork co-founder Adam Neumann led the company’s $ 1.5 million seed round in September of 2018.

Startups – TechCrunch

Best business equipment financing options for expansion to new market

I'm a co-owner of a specialty fueling business, we've been in business for 6 years and we are about to gain a special legal advantage that will give us access to a market that is 15x the size of our current market, and has been untouchable until just now by anyone.

In order to execute and conquer this market-share as fast as possible, we need to build one new fuel distributor per quarter(we have extensive pro forma modeling to prove this out, all based on our real numbers of what we're doing now) – each one costs about 250k, we need to add 2 in the first 2 quarters ideally.

We are self-funded up until this point and we can easily just continue this way and we'll get to the market but we don't want to limp to the market, we want to dive in and dominate it!

Does anyone know how to get about ~500k in business equipment loans? Or have advice of where to look?

Biz stats below:


Specialty fueling biz
300k rev 100k profit
6 years in business
No debt

500k in business capital for equipment and expansion into new market with a special legal advantage to be the only one with market access(new market is 15x the size, we can prove this).

Where is the best place to go for this capital? Or does anyone with this type of funding experience have recommendations?

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Startups – Rapid Growth and Innovation is in Our Very Nature!

How common is it for a startup to offer early exercise of options?

My company is reluctant to offer early exercise of our ISOs because they think it's uncommon. How common is it? Would anyone be willing to share names of companies that offer early exercise, or connect me with people at them who would be willing to chat about the experience of early exercise from the company's perspective?

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Startups – Rapid Growth and Innovation is in Our Very Nature!

Financing options for acquiring larger partner/management buyouts? Is this still a thing?

I have a small SaaS business which works in partnership with a larger company and extends their products. I was employed as a software developer of the parent company until I started my business and have had a relationship with the owners and worked in our niche for nearly 20 years.

Our business has grown extremely quickly over the last year and is much more profitable per sale than our parent company; more importantly I have some concerns about the direction of the parent company and believe I could both significantly improve its profitability and grow the business.

I estimate the parents company value at perhaps $ 3m AUD (although undoubtedly the owners will want more for it). I have a fairly high confidence given current interest rates that my business could service the say $ 30k+ p/m in repayments to buy the parent at some point in the near future (under 1 year). Especially when I take into account the revenue the parent makes.

However like most people I don't have anywhere near $ 3m laying around. Further while I am certainly aiming to become a larger business this is probably not at the level that VCs would be interested in (nor am I frankly sure that I want to try and get into the VC world).

So my options seem to be either try and get a bank loan which I believe might prove very difficult without substantial collateral or try and raise funds from somewhere that might have experience with management buyout type deals (given that my goal would be to keep a substantial portion of the existing employees whom I all know personally).

Some might suggest discussing this with the owners and perhaps financing with their help. While this is a possibility that I haven't dismissed there are 3 owners to this business all of whom have extremely eccentric personalities, its going to be hard enough just to get them to sell. Plus for me to convince them this is a good idea, I essentially need to convince them that they aren't doing a good job?!

Anyone have any comments on what some financing options for this type of a deal might be? Ever heard of anyone in a similar position pulling something like this off?

Thanks in advance for any input…

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Startups – Rapid Growth and Innovation is in Our Very Nature!

Funding options for startups in Africa are quite limited – Co-founder, Kinyungu Ventures – Nairametrics

Funding options for startups in Africa are quite limited – Co-founder, Kinyungu Ventures  Nairametrics
“nigeria startups when:7d” – Google News

Italy’s Scalapay raises €40M to help European ecommerce merchants offer ‘buy now pay later’ options

Of late, there are more consumers buying stuff online, especially young shoppers. However, not all may want to pay the entire cost of the purchase up front. They might prefer to take the convenient ‘buy now and pay later’ option rather than using a credit card. As per a survey by Cardify, a data firm that tracks consumer spending, almost half the customers claim that they spend between 10 per cent and 40 per cent when they use this option. This option attracts those who want to purchase “want” items that they may not be able to purchase otherwise.

This is what Milan-based Scalapay is all about. It is a payment method meant for European e-commerce merchants that lets customers buy now and pay later in three easy instalments sans any interest.

Easy integration of its solution

Scalapay just announced that it secured a whopping €40M seed funding. The investment round was led by Fasanara Capital along with participation from Baleen Capital and Italian family office Ithaca Investments. With this fund, the platform lets e-commerce sellers offer their ‘buy now pay later’ options to their customers.

“When comparing solutions used by merchants to improve customer experience and their bottom line, interest-free instalments stand apart for the high return on investment. We immediately have a big impact on revenues and the integration effort is minimal,” says Simone Mancini, co-founder and Chief Executive Officer. “This new funding allows us to support our pipeline of merchants across Europe and further our mission by giving merchants exciting tools to make their ecommerce experience magical.”

Besides the investment, Raffaele Terrone (former investment banker at Goldman Sachs) joins as the CFO and Mirco Mattevi (previously worked at Afterpay) joins as Head of Product and Daniele Tessari with experience in online and physical retail joins as Sales Manager.

Eyes to expand into new markets

Recently, Scalapay signed a partnership with Raisin Bank, a leading pan-European Banking-as-a-Service provider. Raisin Bank offers customised and innovative products to customers, including fintech companies, family offices and investment companies. As a result of the partnership, Raisin Bank will support Scalapay’s expansion throughout the EU.

How does Scalapay work?

Scalapay established by Simone Mancini and Johnny Mitrevski lets customers choose its ‘buy now pay later’ option while they checkout by setting up an account in just two to three minutes. They can pay using a Visa, Mastercard, Amex or any other bank account. Once they choose this, the payment will be debited automatically from their accounts on the due dates.

Well, Scalapay splits the payments into three convenient instalments without any interest. This helps merchants grow their sales, attract new customers and provide a better customer experience.

Wondering how the Italian startup does this? The company assumes all risk of fraud by paying the online merchants the full cost immediately. With this solution, merchants get higher sales volume from both existing and new customers. As per the company, its financing tool increases average order value by almost 50 per cent.

Startups – Silicon Canals