A short story on taming circumstances.
Let’s say you are in survival mode anyway, as you have picked this way. You have started a company. Moreover, a company with a super long-term vision of training robots to be nice, living in our phones and becoming our best pals. After all empathy is not a trait. It is a skill obtained by co-living and sharing the emotions/conditions of the other, yet obtaining the notion of the self.
Back to Earth now: I founded Mindbin technologies to teach A.I. emotions. Although, it all started as an idea to make an app to recycle your thoughts (yes, that’s where the name descends from). It’s not the best name in the world, but this is not relevant.
Back in December last year, we realised that we can calculate human emotions from text inputs. Later we could use that data to generate replies and reactions that would be comforting, pleasing and right for an exact moment in time.
Yet, to embark on this heavy mission, I lacked a couple of trifles that would and could change it all. Funding, right to work, and right to stay in the UK. I am from Armenia and I came to study here. I started a company, found a like-minded gang of talented software magicians and decided to make bots nicer. But how could I explain this to the Home Office?
The Entrepreneur visa – which I was on already – was expiring, and I could not apply for extension as we did not have two full-time paid employees working for us for over a year. All the ambition, all the investor meetings, all the buzz, all the sleepless nights and counting pennies to cover the bills could fly out of the window, killing a dream and an amazing tech opportunity.
Neither our pending patents on emotion recognition, nor my startled smile of a young founder ready to go for it till the end, could change the situation. I was considering options of moving. But then, it would not be the same. I would still have a visa to tackle, an ecosystem to conquer and my team would be on Skype. I was not considering applying for a job. Cause this was my job and giving up on it would mean giving up on myself.
“To him that will, ways are not wanting”.
There was a way. Tech City UK’s Exceptional Talent Route – the Tech Nation Visa Scheme.
I had to go through a lot of mind-boggling self-interrogation, as labelling myself to be exceptionally talented and promising to the UK’s digital future was the least I wanted at that time. But the thrill of the work we could be doing, and the freedom to make the future I wanted, were bigger than preconceptions. Let the people decide.
The process was straightforward. I did not need lawyers, bank statements and other fuss. I needed trustworthy recommendations, qualifications and reasoning. Also a vision of why my specific area of expertise was relevant and promising. If you have been through migration pain, you will get why this matters. You’re treated as an individual, not like another pile of papers to scroll through and find a reason for “no”. After all, it is a numbers’ game.
I believe the applicants and applications vary and their journeys afterwards will do too. Mine was peculiar, as I had no previous tech education or training. I had worked for the UN, knew a bunch of languages and a few amazing people who could vouch for me. I was also sure (and still am) I could have a go at changing the world and generating lots of revenue. Of course I had patents filed and contacts made to state this for me. Hence, why not?
The Exceptional Talent route was a promise I gave to the UK government and to myself. This was a favour and trust that came back to me. I mean my life didn’t all of a sudden turn into a flowery path to success. I still have to fight, to raise, to test, to prove, to grow, to fail, to learn. But I am on equal terms with everyone else in this town now. And it feels good. It really does.
P.S. Thank you to the Tech City UK team for being so helpful and responsive. You make a difference. Thank you to the people who recommended me. You know who you are. You need to know you have changed my life.