Wayne State University in Detroit and Global Detroit, a regional economic development organization, are partnering to help immigrant and international entrepreneurs launch high-growth startups in southeast Michigan.
Global Entrepreneur-in-Residence (Global EIR) places foreign-born startup founders at universities to teach and mentor. The founders, in turn, become eligible for an H-1B visa, enabling them to launch and grow their companies in metro Detroit.
“We are excited to pair Wayne State’s leadership in advancing new technologies with Global EIR’s innovative approach to bringing and keeping international talent in Michigan,” says Lindsay Klee, senior director of technology commercialization at WSU. “We’re equally excited to provide our students and faculty the opportunity to interact and learn from these global entrepreneurs.”
Simon Forster, a native of Regensburg, Germany, is Wayne State’s first Global EIR. The position will be housed in the Office of Business Innovation and Technology Commercialization, with support also coming from TechTown, Wayne State’s affiliated entrepreneurship hub.
Forster is a co-founder of PassiveBolt, a B2B smart access technology company. PassiveBolt’s consumer product, Shepherd Lock, won the Consumer Technology Association’s CES 2020 and 2021 Innovation Awards for its touch-access keyless entry technology.
The company recently participated in Endeavor Detroit’s inaugural ScaleUp, a selective mentorship program for exceptional leaders of future high-growth companies. Shepherd Lock was developed within Continental Automotive as part of the company’s Co-Pace Incubator in Munich. PassiveBolt spun off from Continental in 2018.
The university says over the last 25 years, immigrants have helped launch one-quarter of all the high-tech startups in the U.S. and approximately half of the startups in Silicon Valley. Of the 87 startups in the U.S. that had grown to valuations over $1 billion by 2019, more than half were launched by immigrants, including 21 by founders who originally came to the U.S. as international students.
Obtaining a visa, however, is a major challenge facing international entrepreneurs who want to start a business in the U.S.
Global EIR was founded in Massachusetts, with programs at Babson College and the University of Massachusetts-Boston. Today a half dozen colleges and universities across the U.S. offer a Global EIR program. Global Detroit launched its Global EIR program in 2018 in partnership with the University of Michigan’s Economic Growth Institute, with funding from the William Davidson Foundation.
“Talent is the number one driver of strong economies,” says Ned Staebler, vice president for economic development at WSU and president and CEO of TechTown. “Attracting and keeping companies founded by international students and other global entrepreneurs makes great sense for our university, our city and region, and our state.”
Wayne State is the second Global EIR program in Michigan, launched with support from the William Davidson Foundation, the National League of Cities and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan’s Office.
In its first three years of operation, Global Detroit’s Global EIR has supported seven founders from six companies. To date, the program’s participants have raised $15.6 million in venture capital and created 49 part-time and full-time jobs. Four of these founders have completed their Global EIR programs and all have received longer-term visas and are working full-time in their companies.
“Global EIR is a critical component of a forward-thinking, sustainable economic development strategy for Michigan,” says Ernestine Lyons, Global EIR program manager at Global Detroit. “From the Big Three in our past to companies like Duo Security and Logic Solutions today, businesses founded by immigrants and their children are vital to our state’s economic growth.”