PALO ALTO, CA. —
Inspired by the movie Terminator, Yingzhe Fu has wanted to make robots ever since he was a child.
That dream is now being realized in the form of a smart device for new homes, created by a startup called Togg that he co-founded. The computer would be built into the infrastructure for new homes, so it can turn lights on and off, respond to commands, such as giving a weather report, and even tell jokes.
“So we are basically making a mini computer. Home builders directly build our devices into the wall, and that device will help you to connect with your mobile phone, [and] with your other smart devices,” said Fu.
Being from China, Fu said there was little chance he could have stayed in the United States to start a company without the aid of an early-stage venture capital firm called Unshackled.
“Without their help, without them sponsoring me, I don’t think I would do that,” said Fu.
Unshackled was created to help immigrant entrepreneurs stay in the United States as they pursue their dreams of entrepreneurship.
One of Unshackled’s founding partners, Manan Mehta, is an American, but he learned first-hand the challenges facing foreign nationals who aspire to be entrepreneurs in the U.S.
“Both me and my co-founder Nitin, respectively, had to shut our own companies down due to co-founders on visas, so for the last two and a half years,” said Mehta. “We’ve been putting our minds to how do we navigate and solve the problem that a lot of immigrant founders face which is, ‘How do I start my business and maintain sponsorship in the United States so I can dedicate every waking hour to my entrepreneurial desires?'”
Foreign nationals often stay in the United States by getting a job with a company that can sponsor a special workers’ visa called the H-1B. But getting this type of visa is not easy.
In 2017, there were 236,000 applications for a skilled workers visa. There are just 85,000 visas available, some of them requiring an advanced degree. H-1B visas also make it tough for foreign nationals to start their own businesses in the U.S.
“As a H-1B holder, you’re not supposed to be unemployed at any given point of time,” said India native Prateek Joshi. “You have to be under