Today, as we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr., one of the most ardent advocates for the advancement and equality of African Americans in history, we should reflect on the continuing injustice in our socioeconomic system and contemplate how we can more effectively work to close the racial entrepreneurship gap.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) took the first official step in eliminating existing net neutrality protections this week. In a 2-1 party-line vote, the Commission adopted Chairman Ajit Pai’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), which would reverse the 2015 Open Internet Order and the agency’s Title II classification of Internet Service Providers (ISPs). In a statement reacting to the vote, Engine Executive Director Evan Engstrom noted that “Any effort to undermine existing net neutrality rules would greatly harm the startup ecosystem...We must not remain silent. Now is the time for the startup community to galvanize around meaningful protections.” Y Combinator founder Sam Altman echoed this sentiment in a Wired op-ed published the same day as the vote, arguing that startup founders have a duty to fight for net neutrality. “Without strong net neutrality rules...the cable and wireless companies that control internet access will have outsized power to pick winners and losers in the market,” he writes. The FCC’s vote initiates a public comment period of 90 days.
Following last year’s dramatic removal of Maria Pallante as Copyright Register, the struggle between Congressional leaders and the Librarian of Congress, Carla Hayden, continues. Despite the fact that Hayden has been clear about her intention to appoint the new Register, (as current law grants her the authority to do), top Republicans and Democrats introduced legislation yesterday that would make the position President-appointed and Senate-confirmed. This shift comes at a time when stakeholders across the board are calling for modernization of the Copyright Office, especially the digitization of records in order to simplify the determination of copyright holders. Members of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees met with Hayden earlier this month in an attempt to hold off on her nomination, however she later wrote them to tell them she planned to move forward with the process in order to ensure an “efficient and effective Copyright Office to serve Congress and the wide variety of stakeholders.” We’re tracking.
Very, Very Strange Times at Uber. Uber was thrown into a human resources and public relations nightmare this week after Susan Fowler, a former engineer at the ride-sharing giant, published a damning blog post recounting sexism, sexual harassment, and administrative negligence during her time at the company. The lack of diversity in the technology industry is well-documented, and while top executives at most Silicon Valley companies (including Uber) have acknowledged the problem and pledged to fix it, accounts like Fowler’s call into question whether those pledges are merely talk. The company’s CEO Travis Kalanick responded to the post by calling for an “urgent investigation” into the allegations, and tapped former Attorney General Eric Holder, board member Arianna Huffington, and the company’s Chief Human Resources officer, Liane Hornsey to lead the probe. However, some have called this approach into question, noting that the three individuals selected are all company insiders. Policymakers on the Hill have also responded to the story, calling on tech companies to do more to embrace diversity. Only time will tell how Uber will recover from this crisis, but in the meantime, there’s always Lyft.
Earlier this week, it was announced that President Trump had tapped Ajit Pai to chair the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Pai is currently the senior Republican commissioner at the agency and as such, his nomination will not require Senate approval. Engine is hopeful that as chairman, Pai will preserve Chairman Wheeler’s tradition of championing America’s innovators and ensuring that startups and entrepreneurs have a voice in the critical debates impacting our 21st century innovation economy. While we have disagreed with Commissioner Pai on a number of issues during his tenure (most notably on net neutrality), we see promise in areas such as his proposal for the creation of Gigabit Opportunity Zones and his efforts around promoting the growth of internet-based services. Expanding access to broadband and preventing incumbent gatekeepers from undermining competition are critical to fostering a thriving startup ecosystem, and we look forward to continuing the important work of ensuring that our communications infrastructure supports innovation in all corners of the U.S.
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.
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!
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 email@example.com.
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.
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.
DC Grapples with IoT Cybersecurity. The Internet of Things (IoT) has grown exponentially in recent years: there are now approximately 6.4 billion internet connected devices worldwide, a number that is increasing by 5.5 million every single day. While the growing IoT holds tremendous potential, recent cyberattacks have left policymakers increasingly concerned over vulnerabilities in connected devices. On Tuesday, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) issued a set of guidelines on IoT cybersecurity, while the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) published its own policy principles for securing connected devices. The following day, policymakers on the Hill held a joint hearing to discuss security and cyberattacks on the IoT. There was consensus among panelists around the importance of standards and guidelines like those released by the Administration earlier in the week. However, there was disagreement over whether formal regulations are necessary. While one participant called for government intervention, Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR), who chaired the hearing, noted that regulations would be a "knee-jerk reaction" to recent attacks. We’re tracking.
This week, 84 business executives, both male and female, penned an open letter to our next president detailing the steps that he or she should take to bolster the participation of women in entrepreneurship. They grouped their suggestions into three broad categories: access to financial and human capital, access to local and global markets and networks, and help with the changing-face of technology. The lack of diversity in startups and investments is well documented. But it’s also indisputable that improving the landscape for female entrepreneurs will create positive economic and social impacts. As the group pointed out in their letter, if women and men participated equally in the entrepreneurial ecosystem, the United States’ GDP could rise by $30 billion. The business leaders also noted that women invest 90 percent of their income into their communities, meaning that an investment in their careers could easily benefit society as a whole.
Startups across the U.S. use stock options to attract and incentivize top talent. But as we’ve written before, the current tax code makes it difficult for employees to exercise those options requiring employees to pay taxes on their options even when there’s no public market to sell them to cover the tax burden. On Tuesday, Senators Dean Heller (R-NV) and Mark Warner (D-VA) and Representative Erik Paulsen (R-MN) introduced a bill aimed at remedying this.
As the world reacts to the news of UK voters’ historic decision to leave the European Union, many are wondering what this means for the tech industry, which widely favored remaining in the EU. While the full consequences of the UK’s departure will take years to play out, the interim period could be one of great uncertainty for British and European tech firms, as well as for those U.S. companies with employees and customers across the pond.
Over the past year, Engine has teamed up with veterans working in the tech industry and several Veterans Service Organizations to understand how government can better support transitioning servicemembers interested in careers in technology. Whether as entrepreneurs, managers, or engineers, it’s clear that given the proper training and support, veterans have the talent, resolve, and discipline to thrive in the tech workforce.
The Diversifying Tech Caucus, the bipartisan, bicameral caucus that Engine helped establish last year, held its first briefing of 2016 earlier this week. The Capitol room was packed with over 70 congressional staffers who heard from a panel of tech workers, leaders, and entrepreneurs about African American participation in the tech workforce. The numbers aren't great, with African Americans making up just 6 percent of STEM workers, a dismal 2 percent of employees at major Silicon Valley firms, and an even smaller percentage of venture-backed startups. Yet, many efforts, from private industry as well as non-profit organizations, are underway to the bolster the participation and leadership of blacks in tech.
Back in January, we worked with Senators Shelley Moore Capito, Tim Scott, Amy Klobuchar, and Representatives Barbara Comstock, Tulsi Gabbard, Ruben Gallego, Robin Kelly, Cathy McMorris Rodgers to launch the Diversifying Tech Caucus (DTC). The Caucus was organized to address one of the most pressing issues facing the tech sector today: the alarming lack of diversity in the tech workforce. DTC members have been instrumental in promoting a variety of bipartisan bills that would not only strengthen the tech talent pipeline by providing Americans with better access to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education opportunities, but would make it easier for new entrepreneurs and workers to participate in the startup ecosystem.
Here are a few pieces of legislation introduced and sponsored by DTC members (and others) that have our support:
- Diversity in Science Technology and Nurturing Capable Educators Act (DISTANCE) Act
Sponsored by DTC Chair Rep. Robin Kelly (D-IL), this bill would provide scholarships to college students studying in a STEM field who agree to teach in a K-12 school for five years after they graduate. The Department of Education’s most recent teacher shortage report highlights the consistent shortage of math and science teachers, which affects 28,000 students a year in California alone. The DISTANCE Act would incentivize STEM college students to become teachers, improving America’s ability to train the next generation of tech innovators.
- Innovate America Act
Sponsored by DTC Chair Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), the Innovate America Act would, among other things, create 100 new STEM-focused secondary schools, measure graduation rates for students majoring in STEM degrees, increase the number of scholarships for aspiring computer science teachers, and expand undergraduate research opportunities to encourage more students to enter STEM fields. Since computer science is often not designated as a core academic subject, administrators are less likely to hire teachers who are prepared to teach it. Bills like the Innovate America Act help increase the pool of skilled computer science teachers who are crucial to building the STEM pipeline.
- GI Bill STEM Extension Act
Introduced by Rep. David McKinley (R-WV), this bill would authorize nine months of additional Post-9/11 Educational Assistance for a veteran who has used all his or her benefits and who: (1) is enrolled in a postsecondary education program that requires more than the standard number of credit hours for completion in a STEM field; or (2) has earned a postsecondary degree in one of those fields and is enrolled in a teaching certification program. Given that a typical undergraduate engineering program takes around 4.5 years to complete, this bill provides important financial relief for veterans transitioning into STEM jobs.
- America Can Code Act
Introduced by DTC members Reps. Farenthold and Cardenas, the bill would designate “computer programming languages” as “critical foreign languages,” which would provide incentives for state and local schools to teach more computer science classes in K-12 curricula. Creating incentives for schools to boost computer science curricula might seem peculiar, considering the well-known need to train a ever-growing need for skilled programmers, but currently, only one in four schools teaches coding. The bill also establishes a Task Force on Computer Programming and Coding (in the Department of Education) to identify and prioritize challenges of educating and training a workforce equipped to fill jobs in emerging STEM fields.
- Veterans Entrepreneurial Transition Act (VET Act)
Introduced by Sens. Moran and Tester (and co-sponsored by DTC chair Sen. Shelley Moore Capito), this bill would establish a pilot program enabling veterans to use their GI Bill benefits towards starting a new business or purchasing an existing business. We described the context (and our support) for this bill here. The VET Act would make it easier for veterans to participate in the tech startup economy and achieve entrepreneurial goals that don’t require higher education.
Congressional interest in working on legislation that addresses the tech world’s diversity problem remains high, but adding your voice to the conversation about these bills will go a long way towards moving the agenda forward. Bill sponsors are always looking for emails, calls, and letters from the public in support of the provisions in the bill; personal anecdotes are particularly impactful in order to highlight the importance of a bill’s goals. You can find contact information for members of Congress on their respective websites (also linked to their names in this post).
Are you a startup that cares a lot about improving the tech talent pipeline? Do you want to work with Engine to support legislative solutions? Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Friday, we were honored to join the organization, VetTechTrek (VTT), on their New York City trek into the offices of ten tech companies.VetTechTrek’s mission is “to build a known path between the military and tech...by breaking the mold of traditional recruiting practices.” Over the course of two days, they brought over twenty veterans, and current servicemembers nearing their military exits, into tech companies, incubators, and coworking spaces to connect them directly with current employees and see first-hand the atmosphere and opportunitiesin the industry. Not only does the experience support veterans by expanding their networks with host companies, but the VTT program supports community building among veteran participants.
At each company stop, the VTT entourage is introduced to a panel of employees with relevant roles, recruiters, and veteran employees. Panelists provided a range of insights for VTT participants, including:
- At a high level, how to translate veteran resumes, what the company is looking for in their employees, and how veterans’ military skills fit into roles at a specific company.
- What veterans should look for in the company they work for, depending on their interests, personal goals, and values.
- How veterans should best position themselves for the jobs they want and the importance of building a network.
- How military experience is an asset—an asset that brings critical skills to the company workforce and diversity that improves the product.
The group visited more than ten tech companies including, Uber, Venmo, and Warby Parker. Seeing very different spaces and business models back-to-back allowed participants to understand the breadth of companies in the tech sector and the importance of finding a company that aligns with their own needs and values. However, what was consistent across the companies visited was the overall feeling that company employees are dedicated to their products and care about making an impact, a feeling very familiar for former and current servicemembers.
It was an empowering afternoon seeing an organization directly strengthening the #VetsWhoTech pipeline. For more information on the trek, read VTT’s recap.
Here at Engine, we are commemorating Veterans Day by driving and supporting conversation about #VetsWhoTech.
- We launched a booklet that follows the paths of seven successful veterans in the technology industry and calls on Congress to update services provided to veterans to reflect the changes in a 21st century economy.
- We shared many of these stories as part of our “Innovation for All” series on Medium.
- We hosted a briefing for members of Congress and their staff on Capitol Hill about “Veterans Diversifying Tech”. The event included a panel moderated by Engine’s Executive Director Julie Samuels and featured Todd Bowers (Director UberMILITARY, Uber), Nicole Isaac (Head of Economic Graph Policy Partnerships, LinkedIn), Steve Weiner (Co-Founder, VetTechTrek), Andrew Kemendo (Founder & CEO, Pair Inc.), and Rob Polston (Recruiter, Amazon Web Services).
- Yesterday, we celebrated #VetsWhoTech in San Francisco with a launch event for our booklet, featuring many of the veterans profiled. (Recap to come!)
- Later this week, we’ll join our friends at VetTechTrek for their visits with over 20 veterans to various tech companies, exposing and connecting them to jobs in engineering, sales, and beyond. (For a recap of their previous treks, visit their Medium page.)
But this is just the beginning. We’re calling on Washington to support policy that would better prepare our nation’s veterans for careers in the tech industry, with relevant training and resources before and after exiting the military.
Our military is made up of diverse, driven individuals with a range of skills and experiences—and a diverse entrepreneur and employee population is key to ensuring the tech economy fosters prosperity, creates jobs, and improves our lives. We look forward to working with members of Congress on policy efforts aimed at strengthening the veteran tech talent pipeline.