SXSW panelists consider how to connect entrepreneurs and policymakers

Communities / Article

Photo credit: Anusha Alikhan.

How can governments partner with entrepreneurs to strengthen the startup ecosystem and promote innovation? A panel at SXSW took on this question Sunday, discussing how to build bridges between entrepreneurs and policymakers.

Greg Ferenstein of Tech Crunch moderated the panel, which included Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.), Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Brandon Pollak, director of global affairs for 1776, a Washington D.C.-based business incubator. The conversation highlighted the need for entrepreneurs to become more involved in politics to shape issues that directly affect them, such as business regulation, tax policy, marketplace fairness, immigration and opening up government data.

Issa pointed out that in many cases entrepreneurs do not leverage lobbying campaigns to curb regulations that stifle business growth. “The industry has to turn the heat up,” he said.

He cited the example of the proposed anti-piracy bills, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA), which were dropped by legislators after protests from citizens and tech companies that the bills would limit freedom of expression; Issa strongly opposed the legislation.

DelBene said that the government also has to take responsibility for cleaning up outdated laws that have outlived their efficacy. She advocated for a more “iterative” approach to policymaking that aligns with the fast pace of innovation.

“Policy doesn’t move as quickly as innovation happens,” DelBene said. “Lawmakers need to be better stewards of policy and update it, not just add on top of old laws.”

In addition to streamlining lawmaking, Pollack stressed that loosening internal rules would allow the government to take advantage of a larger pool of talent and promote innovation from within.

“The procurement process is so fundamentally flawed,” he said. “By working with the tech community to identify the best companies governments can utilize the tech sector to make change.”

The panel closed with a heated discussion on immigration reform. Ferenstein asked why the U.S. House of Representatives was stalling comprehensive immigration. Issa said legislation that aims to attract engineers and foreigners with advanced professional degrees was being held “hostage” in the battle for comprehensive immigration reform. Delbene countered, emphasizing that building the economy and creating jobs required a broad approach. “We have an incredible coalition that has come together and wants to see comprehensive reform,” she said.

Anusha Alikhan, communications director at Knight Foundation