When asked to envision a startup community, the majority of Americans probably think of San Francisco, New York City, or maybe Cambridge, with flocks of engineers in hoodies drinking cold brew coffee. This is an unsurprising perception—78 percent of venture capital investments go to just three states: California, New York, and Massachusetts. Entrepreneurs and technology talent are often forced to move to where the funding is, creating a money-talent cycle that has contributed to heavily concentrated startup hubs on the two coasts.
On Tuesday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Helping Angels Lead Our Startups (HALOS) Act by a vote of 344 to 73, an even wider margin of support than when the bill passed the House during the previous Congress. Engine applauds the House passage of the bill, which would clarify regulatory ambiguities around general solicitation to ensure that startups aren't unintentionally running afoul of securities laws when participating in demo days and pitch competitions
Engine commends Congressman Kevin Yoder (R-KS), Congressman Jared Polis (D-CO), Congressman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), Congressman John Conyers (D-MI), and the bill’s other cosponsors for today’s reintroduction of the Email Privacy Act, legislation that would make critical reforms to our nation’s outdated outdated digital privacy laws.
Last year saw a number of notable moments in startup and technology policy: investment crowdfunding went live, net neutrality survived a court challenge, drones took the the skies, encryption dominated headlines, the Copyright Office reviewed the DMCA, and much more. Over the last two weeks, we have been recapping these top issues and looking at how they could be impacted in 2017 on our blog. Read all of the posts here, and stay up to date with these topics and more by signing up for our monthly newsletter.
In 2016, disruptive technologies increasingly permeated every aspect of our lives: commercial drones took to the skies, self-driving cars hit the streets around the country, and artificial intelligence technologies proliferated. In an attempt to stay ahead of the curve, policymakers launched a number of constructive efforts to grapple with the significant potential impacts of emerging technologies.
2016 brought with it many positive developments for startups in terms of capital access and tax policy. Investment crowdfunding finally went live, a number of bills to facilitate capital formation passed the House, and the startup community galvanized around a tax bill that would make it easier for startup employees to exercise their stock options. While many of these policy changes hang in limbo going into 2017, we believe that next year holds significant promise for improvements to the tax and financing policy landscape for startups.
Privacy and security issues were top of mind for policymakers once again in 2016: the Apple-FBI battle pushed questions around encryption to the forefront; massive data breaches and cyberattacks called attention to cybersecurity issues; uncertainty around data transfers between the U.S. and EU persisted; and the heated debate around government access to digital communications thrust electronic privacy reform back into the spotlight. But even with all of these prominent debates, 2016 did not see much actual legislative movement. It’s unclear what will come to pass next year, but we are hopeful that any policies Congress or the new Administration pursue take into account the unique needs and realities of the evolving startup ecosystem.
The net neutrality debate that dominated tech headlines in 2014 and 2015 was once again the top telecom issue in 2016, peaking in June with the U.S. Court of Appeals decision to uphold the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) 2015 Open Internet Order. The telecom excitement didn’t end there, as policymakers dealt with a huge number of issues related to promoting telecom competition; preparing for a wireless, connected future; and building out broadband access in underserved parts of the country. In short, the momentum in 2015 carried over into 2016 in a big way. Looking ahead, 2017 is poised to be yet another busy year in telecom policy, though the impact of an incoming Trump Administration still remains uncertain.
Conversations about talent and diversity were once again at the forefront in 2016, with a heated Presidential election, bold actions by the Obama Administration around immigration and computer science education, and efforts by major tech players to diversify their workforces. The tech community and policymakers continued to search for solutions, and while 2016 didn’t unearth a silver bullet for fixing tech’s workforce and diversity issues, significant progress was made.
The Copyright Office’s announcement on New Year’s Eve 2015 that it was launching a public review of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) set the tone for a varied and busy year in intellectual property policy. While there was no “Next Great Copyright Act” or comprehensive patent reform bill in 2016, courts, agencies, and elected officials addressed a wide range of IP issues, setting the stage for even more significant developments in 2017.
A Big Year for Startup Policy in 2016. The Startup News Digest will be taking a hiatus over the holidays, but you can still get your startup policy fill on our blog. Yesterday, we began publishing Year in Review posts on some of 2016’s most notable debates in tech and entrepreneurship. Watch this space for reports on capital access, intellectual property, net neutrality, emerging technologies, and more over the coming days. Thanks for all of your support in 2016, and we’ll catch you in the new year!
Tech Meets with Trump. Following on the heels of weeks of meetings for the President-elect, Donald Trump met with 14 executives from the tech community at Trump Tower on Wednesday. Prior to this meeting, relations between the Trump team and Silicon Valley had been frosty, at best. During the course of his campaign, Trump called for many policies that the technology community found threatening, including trade restrictions, stricter immigration policy, and “closing that internet up.” Despite this, many attendees from both camps left the meeting optimistic. Chief Executive Officer of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, a favorite target of Trump during the election said, “I shared the view that the administration should make innovation one of its key pillars, which would create a huge number of jobs across the whole country, in all sectors, not just tech—agriculture, infrastructure, manufacturing—everywhere.” Among the items discussed at the meeting was the aforementioned job creation, China, tax reform, education, and infrastructure. Mr. Trump summed up his feelings towards the group saying, “We want you to keep going with the incredible innovation. There’s nobody like you in the world.”
Today, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler announced his plans to step down from the agency on January 20, 2017. The following statement can be attributed to Engine Executive Director Evan Engstrom: “In his time at the helm of the FCC, Chairman Tom Wheeler has been a tireless champion for startups and innovators everywhere, and Engine is grateful for his service.
On Tuesday, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed unanimously an ordinance sponsored by Supervisor Mark Farrell that will give San Francisco residents more freedom to choose their broadband provider. Engine helped galvanize support around the issue by circulating a petition signed by more than 200 San Franciscans. The following statement can be attributed to Engine Executive Director Evan Engstrom:
Engine made its home in the Bay Area for a number of reasons, the top being its proximity to some of the most creative and innovative companies in the United States. Home to tens of thousands of startups, it’s a tech haven with a rich talent pool, access to capital and seemingly endless disruptive ideas.
Join Us in Pushing Back Against the EC’s Copyright Proposal. Earlier this year, the European Commission (EC) published a dangerous copyright reform proposal that would require online portals to implement filtering technologies to proactively police their users’ conduct. If adopted, this proposal would have a devastating impact: raising the cost of operating an online platform startup to untenable levels, diminishing investment capital for new companies, and threatening to bankrupt existing portals. In an attempt to fight back against the EC’s proposal, Engine has drafted a startup sign-on letter to USTR, the Department of Commerce, and the State Department, urging leaders at those agencies to engage with the EU to push back against this new copyright regime on behalf of America’s startups. If your startup is interested in joining the letter, please email Emma at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Computer Science (CS) Education Week is an annual initiative that aims to get kids excited about computer science and inspire interest in technology careers—an effort that is more important now than ever. It’s no secret that demand for computer science professionals has skyrocketed in recent years. Virtually every industry has an increasing need for STEM workers, especially those with a background in computer science and coding. And yet, there is a growing gap in the availability of these skilled individuals. There are currently over 500,000 open computing jobs nationwide, but last year, only 42,969 computer science students graduated into the workforce. In fact, there are fewer students graduating with degrees in computer science today than there were ten years ago. Our workforce is woefully unprepared to meet the growing demand for IT professionals.
This morning, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously in Samsung’s favor in a case against Apple involving how damages should be calculated and awarded in design patent cases. In a win for the startup community, the court held that an award for design patent infringement does not necessarily allow the patent holder to obtain damages equivalent to the total profits of a product in which the patented design is used, as the lower court originally ruled. Rather, courts can award design patent damages for the particular components in which the patent was used. The decision may result in the lower court drastically decreasing its original award of almost $400 million to Apple, though the Supreme Court did not rule on how the modified damage amount should be calculated.
On Wednesday, Engine’s Executive Director Evan Engstrom and sixteen other technology industry leaders sent a letter to President-elect Donald Trump outlining a number of growth and innovation-driving principles he should consider as he sets his policy agenda. The letter outlines the impact of the technology industry on economic growth and encourages Trump to tap into the sector’s ingenuity to solve some of America’s biggest challenges. Specifically, the letter recommends investing in an improved technology infrastructure, modernizing the ways laws and regulations govern data, pursuing tax reform, and filling government with people who are committed to working faster and smarter. Read the full letter here.