As a result, sitting here on this plane, I've been pondering what message I want to deliver on behalf of startups and entrepreneurs. Thanks to on-board wifi, you can join me in that thought process, if you'd like. So here's my simple question:
What do folks in Washington need to know about the global community of entrepreneurs?
I've been in a few government-themed meetings recently, so I know some of the standard answers. One school of thought is something like: leave startups alone! They are so fragile, the heavy hand of government policy could easily snuff them out while trying to help them. And there's some truth to that, although I think the metaphor is a little misleading. Much of what makes the USA, and Silicon Valley in particular, such a great place to start a company is the result of good government policy. I think a more nuanced view is that we should be encouraging the government to think about the impact on entrepreneurs, and try to foster policies that reduce burdens on companies in their earliest stages. Some of those policies actually require more, not less, government action, because startups risk being crushed by entrenched corporate interests as well.
A second standard theme focuses on each of our financial interest. If the government raises taxes or adds regulation to my sector of the economy, watch out: innovation is doomed. I understand that there is a reason to employ lobbyists to protect established interests, but I'm not really interested in that job. I'd like to see if we can come up with policy suggestions, concerns, or questions that might promote entrepreneurship generally - and globally. It's my fervent belief that will lead to overall economic growth.
So what are good entrepreneur-friendly policies? What is good in the current system that should be preserved? And what hurdles could be eliminated? My short list, off the top of my head (hey, I am in an airplane, after all):
- Patent reform (so startups don't have to waste time amassing a deterrent warchest of dubious patents)
- Health insurance reform (so more people can take the risk of becoming an entrepreneur)
- Stage-appropriate regulation (many regulations kick in only after companies achieve a certain size, which promotes more risk-taking)
- Open data and platforms (the major theme of the Gov 2.0 movement - give startups open access to the raw materials so they can create economic growth)
- Open spectrum and wireless competition (with obvious benefits, I hope)
(It's impossible to resist the urge to plug Virgin America as much as possible. Here I am, tens of thousands of feet above the ground, and I have power and broadband. Of course, the real thanks should go to a startup - Gogo Inflight Internet - that I was lucky enough to meet at a recent workshop. Thanks guys!)