Watch out, startup communities: The Congressmen are coming
The worlds of Silicon Valley and Capitol Hill are still separated by more than just thousands of miles. The two cultures – one predicated on agility and risk, the other on process and consultation – occupy opposite ends of the ideological spectrum when it comes to Getting Things Done. The tech industry and startup world are only just waking up to the need to maintain an ongoing dialogue with Congress, while the political class is starting to realize that innovation and entrepreneurship are vital pieces in the nation's economic puzzle.
In the weeks ahead, however, the gap between the two worlds will shrink just a little as Congressmen fan out across the country to visit startup communities in their home districts. Starting today and proceeding throughout September, 44 members of Congress will be meeting with startups in their home districts from Tennessee to Ohio as part of Startup Day Across America, a joint initiative by Engine (formerly known as Engine Advocacy), the Congressional Caucus on Innovation and Entrepreneurship, and Washington DC's 1776, an incubator-cum-accelerator that helps startups focused on highly regulated sectors.
The groups hope the discussions will be more than just photo-ops for politicians attempting to show off their friendly ties with tech companies. The idea is that the meetings will foster meaningful engagement between Congress and local startup communities that will outlast the high-level, one-off contacts that happen when, say, Congressmen tour Silicon Valley as part of their fundraising efforts, or when a select group of founders visit Capitol Hill on a field trip, as is what happens with Engine's Startup Day on the Hill.
With the emergence of advocacy groups, such as Engine, a well-moneyed lobby group in the form of Mark Zuckerberg's FWD.us, and companies like Uber, Lyft, Airbnb tangling with regulators on an increasingly regular basis, there has been more liquidity of conversation between the startup world and Washington DC than ever before. Endeavors like Startup Day Across America won't mean techies and politicos will suddenly become fast friends forever, but they are incremental in effect – each instance of outreach builds on the other, gradually normalizing the idea that the two groups should be working with each other rather than just clashing on matters such as piracy, privacy, and patents.
In recognition of the bridge-building efforts, Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS), who authored the entrepreneur-friendly Startup Act 3.0 and is one of a host of politicos making a concerted effort to get closer to the startup community, published an op-ed on PandoDaily yesterday calling for more awareness among his colleagues of startups' concerns.
"A startup-considerate Congress is apt to produce the smarter policies our country needs and Washington has long been looking for," Moran wrote. "On Startup Day, we can begin that with an introduction and a handshake."
In a statement today, Congressman Jared Polis (D-CO) said: “As founder and co-chair of the bipartisan Congressional Caucus on Innovation and Entrepreneurship, and a former entrepreneur, I know the importance that entrepreneurship has had on our economy. But too many lawmakers don’t." Startup Day Across America is an opportunity for entrepreneurs to cultivate relationships with lawmakers, he said.
Events for Startup Day Across America have been confirmed for Atlanta, Austin, Baltimore, Boulder, Cambridge, Chicago, Cincinnati, Dallas, Farmington, Grand Rapids, Jeffersonville, Kansas City, Memphis, Phoenix, Port Washington, Seattle, and Stony Brook.
Illustration by Hallie Bateman.