My Open Letter to Malcolm Turnbull, from a Foreign Entrepreneur

What better place in the world could you choose as the birthplace of your startup?

Dear Prime Minister,

My name is Gregory Villain, I am French and I founded Boutiq- a food and travel startup headquartered in Sydney. Though we haven’t officially met, it was attending your speech at Fishburners in 2014 (the startup co-working space now home to my company) that truly inspired me to make Australia the home of Boutiq. I thought to myself, ‘Finally, a politician who understands startups and the jobs created thanks to entrepreneurs!’, and I know you still do.

“Migrants bring dreams that think big, beyond Australian borders.”

Fast-forward to today, and after having lived and worked in Australia for four years, I now face leaving Australia due to no viable visa option supporting a foreign entrepreneur like myself. In the middle of raising Boutiq’s first round of investment to employ more Australians, I now have to look at overseas alternatives given the recent changes made to the 457 visa. I know I’m not alone in this position, and I write to you in the hope this message influences your decision-making during the plight of Australia’s foreign startup founders also stuck without visas.

Before the idea for Boutiq, it was the emerging local tech space that brought me here. Arriving back in 2013, 38% of the BRW Fast Starters list had a founder born overseas. Migrants bring dreams that think big, beyond Australian borders.

To use your own words, the Australian ‘appetite for risk is lower than comparable countries’, and it’s this appetite migrants also bring- creating jobs, empowering and developing your talent, and ultimately boosting your economy. There’s no better feeling than walking through Fishburners and witnessing Aussie and foreign entrepreneurs collaborate.

Fishburners and its international energy pioneered a new era for Australia’s tech space.

So how can Australia further foster entrepreneurship to an internationally competitive standard?

Foreign-founded companies need a chance to start out, and startups need to be able to sponsor foreign employees. The 457 visa changes mean the jobs most needed by startups now have either shorter lengths or conditions unattainable for young companies. Meanwhile, the new 188 Entrepreneur visa is unrealistic for early stage startups. Restricting this visa only to founders with investment from Australian registered Venture Capital funds, and then a wait of at least 14 months for the visa to be granted, contradicts its purpose. It is well known that Venture Capital investors do not back ideas, they invest in operating startups with traction who need to execute fast.

For the 188 Entrepreneur visa to work, it should be made the other way around. I propose the following alternative:

  1. Let the foreign entrepreneur get access to the provisional 2 year visa with a streamlined and fast assessment process;
  2. Let them establish and launch the business for these 2 years;
  3. Grant the full length visa after securing investment.
Foreign-founded companies need a chance to start out, and startups need to be able to sponsor foreign employees.

I see this 188 Entrepreneur visa as a tremendous opportunity for Australia to attract founders from overseas who will contribute positively to the economy. Embracing international entrepreneurship has turned places like Singapore, London and Stockholm into soaring tech hubs. They realise that self employed people by definition can’t steal jobs, they create them. Digital nomadic startups like Boutiq can adapt and operate from other locations, the real impact is on Australia’s potential for innovation.

Let Australia unleash its potential…

Dear Prime Minister, I hope that in reformulating visa restrictions you keep Australia’s longer term interests in mind. I am sure you’ve heard the growing concern for Australia’s tech space. It’s been voiced by founders like Atlassian’s Mike Cannon-Brookes and Freelancer’s Matt Barrie, and it’s echoed by us early stage founders at places like Fishburners. I invite you to consult with us to arrive at a solution that really attracts the best and brightest from overseas to create the next Aussie startup giants and help Australia prosper.


Gregory Villain

Founder, Boutiq