Current legal frameworks have allowed us to build creative online communities that have enabled musicians, writers, artists, developers, designers, and filmmakers throughout Europe to access a global online market. We are concerned that proposed changes to the European Copyright Directive, specifically Article 13, will threaten the existence of these vibrant online communities.
Today, more than 200 startups and investors from across the country joined Engine and the National Venture Capital Association (NVCA) in sending a letter to President Trump opposing his Executive Orders on immigration—both the immigration ban EO signed on January 27th and the draft EO that would roll back existing worker visa and parole programs.
For decades, the tech and startup community paid little attention to Washington, D.C. Entrepreneurs chose to focus their energies on building their companies, without much regard for the happenings of Congress or state legislatures. But in recent years, startups have begun to recognize that the decisions made by policymakers in a distant city can have a huge impact on their day-to-day operations and bottom lines. While the lawmaking process might seem long, laborious, and, at times, incomprehensible, it is more important than ever for the entire startup ecosystem to proactively engage policymakers at all levels of government—not only to foster a startup-friendly environment but also to anticipate and shape important policy debates that will affect America and the tech and startup communities for years to come.
By CEA and Engine
On Tuesday, Engine and CEA held a startup fly-in to advocate in support of the the Innovation Act and PATENT Act, which would bring critical reforms to the nation’s patent system. We were joined in DC by founders and executives from TMSoft, MapBox, Smart Ride, Jump Rope, Meetup, Kickstarter, and Etsy. Before the jam-packed day of meetings, CEA and Engine hosted these startups from across the U.S. at the Association’s Innovation House on Capitol Hill. The #fixpatents team shared their own stories about battling trolls before conveying to lawmakers how devastating this legalized extortion is to small companies.
The day was a great success as we went from office to office, between the House, Senate, and Capitol, for meetings with members of the Judiciary Committees of each house. We used the occasion to disseminate Engine’s latest booklet of stories from startups that have been targeted by patent trolls.
The #fixpatents team came out of meetings optimistic that legislators are committed to passing bills that will fix the current state of abusive patent litigation. Members and their staff were highly engaged, and many were surprised to hear the stories of those startups in attendance. The startups’ experiences very clearly underscored the impact of the patent troll problem and the extortion that happens behind the closed doors of settlement.
Jump Rope discussed their inability to recover fees, despite winning their case against a troll that claimed its patent covered reserving the future purchase of goods. And then there was TMSoft who estimated their troll case costing $190,000 in legal work before even setting foot in the courtroom. We reiterated the need for a more level playing field that would afford defendants the chance to fight back.
We’d like to thank Franklin Square Group and TwinLogic Strategies, as well as our Congressional co-hosts for their assistance in coordinating the event. You can see what the #fixpatents team had to say and hear their personal stories about fighting for innovation in the face of troll attacks. Check here for forthcoming videos from CEA and Engine’s Patent Reform Day.
Here’s to getting patent reform across the finish line!
Last month, the FCC released a proposal for new rules concerning the open Internet, and now the public has four months to provide comment. Those proposed rules pay a lip service to an open Internet -- something we strongly support -- but their substance tells a different story. One of the most dangerous aspects of the proposal is the resulting uncertainty that startups and investors would face. Unfortunately, until and unless we have real net neutrality rules in place, that uncertainty is unavoidable.
As any business owner will understand, when you’re trying get a startup off the ground, any uncertainty can be dangerous -- enough to spook investors and stunt growth. In this way, startups and other business owners are already feeling the impact of the net neutrality debate.
Jamie Wilkinson is the co-founder and CEO of VHX, an online video distribution company that helps artists connect directly with their audience. Watch Jamie explain how the uncertainty over net neutrality is already affecting his business.
So, a speedy solution is required here. But it must also be the right solution.
FCC Chairman Wheeler’s current proposal is not the right solution. The Chairman has stated his preference to rely on Section 706 to implement so-called open Internet rules. While this sounds fine, this year’s Verizon v FCC decision makes that legally impossible. As a result, the Chairman’s proposed rules would result in years of litigation. Likely to be overturned, we’d be left exactly where we are today
Instead, the Internet needs to be reclassified under Title II as a “common carrier” (like telephone lines, roads, highways, and trains). Only once the FCC has done that can it ensure a true open Internet and deliver the certainty startups need.
In a recent letter to the FCC, Venture Capitalist Brad Burnham explained that without the certainly Title II reclassification brings, Union Square Ventures (and other VC firms) will not invest in Internet startups like they have been to this point:
“Investors like us will need to extract a risk premium before supporting an unproven service, which will hurt the creators who are ultimately responsible for innovation. Worse, investors like us will decide not to risk our partners' capital at all to back an applications layer start-up, because an incumbent could easily copy the basic elements of a new service and beat them in the market by paying for a faster connection to consumers. We will also be very reluctant to fund companies building services that compete with current or future offerings of the cable or telecommunications companies that can directly impact a consumer's experience of a new service.”
Not only would the proposed rules allow for pay-to-play schemes, but they would allow ISPs to make “commercially reasonable” deals to prioritize certain content. This violates the concept of net neutrality, and -- potentially even worse -- determining what is and is not “commercially reasonable” would require the kind of legal budgets and lawyers on staff that startups just don’t have. If you’re a startup and can ISP proposed a “commercially unreasonable” deal, would you have the time and resources to bring a case at the FCC? This added layer of uncertainty is another reason we cannot support Chairman Wheeler’s proposal.
This post is by Ted Henderson, Founder of Capitol Bells.
A congressional approval rating hovering around 13 percent suggests a failure to engage the public in the legislative process, but technology can provide a solution by giving citizens and politicians a new way to interact. Representatives need to know what we think in order to represent us.
Public engagement means sharing your voice with your community and elected leaders. Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as pulling your elected official aside and telling them what you think. But what if it was that easy? What if there was a way to communicate with your community and your elected officials right from your laptop or smartphone?
The primary means for public engagement with Congress has been calling, emailing, or writing letters. But the volume of constituent mail has exploded in recent years. Over 10,000 advocacy organizations now direct millions of e-mail form letters to congressional offices, and as a result the value of each voice has been devalued.
Social media and crowdsourcing technologies provide new channels for engagement and direct communication with the political and social decision makers. Anyone can share their positions on specific bills through social networks, connect with communities, and amplified their voices.
Capitol Bells quantifies the voices behind a certain position, then uses those tallies to score politicians on how well they are representing. For instance, a user interested in immigration reform can use CapitolBells.com to express their support for H.R. 15 -- the House’s comprehensive immigration reform legislation. By creating and sharing a “Motion” with friends, this user can explain why the bill is important, try to collect more support, and push her Congressman to cosponsor H.R. 15.
Hundreds of Members of Congress and thousands of congressional staffers already use Capitol Bells to promote their own legislation. Congresswoman Grace Meng wrote in support of H.R. 15:“It is well past time to fix our dysfunctional immigration system that has hurt too many people for far too long. The American people will not accept any more excuses. The time for CIR must be now.” Every time a constituent agrees with her position on the platform, Ms. Meng’s overall score as a Representative goes up.
Congressional approval ratings may be low, but our opportunity to engage with Congress has never been higher. With social media, and tools like Capitol Bells, lawmakers have a chance to take our voices into account like never before. Let’s give Congress a second chance to represent us.
Watch Ted's Startup Speak video:
If you’ve been following the patent troll epidemic in the news at all, you’ve probably also heard of the company I work for. Six months ago, I started working at FindTheBest. Two days after I started, we were served with our first demand letter from Lumen View Technology LLC. The next A day, Lumen View Technology filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.
To date I have been operating on a rather simple premise. If democracy equals freedom and freedom equals privacy then - by the transitive property of mathematics - democracy and privacy must be intricately linked. Like all constitutional queries, the discussions we are having about privacy - and those yet to be had - are centered around a single question: what kind of country do we want to live in?
Pedro Sorrentino hails from Sao Paolo, Brazil, and is currently living in San Francisco working for SendGrid. While attending graduate school in Boulder, Colorado, Pedro started and sold his first business. Once he graduated, however, Pedro had a hard decision to make. Based on his visa class, and the fact that he came from Brazil, the rules stated that it was mandatory for him to return home upon graduation. Would he go back to Brazil to work for his company? Or could he find an employer who would sponsor his H-1B application to stay in the United States?
Peruvian born, Fulbright scholar, engineer, entrepreneur, and Hattery Co-Founder and Managing Director, Luis Arbulu, takes us through his perspective on current immigration policy and the Senate “Gang of Eight” bill. The highlight? The visa specifically for entrepreneurs.
In his spare time, Luis works with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and USCIS as an Entrepreneur in Residence, advocating for growing companies and entrepreneurs right at the center of it all.
If you have a story to tell, email email@example.com
Sumit Suman is the co-founder of Mentii, an online mentoring platform connecting successful mentors with aspiring young people. Sumit started the business both in New York and Bangalore in order to benefit from capital, talent and the market across two startup hubs. But, as the co-founder of Mentii, it was imperative that Sumit could work on the U.S. side. This is where the trouble began.
The whole visa process was an expensive distraction, especially during the early bootstrapped stage when the team needed to devote all their resources to finding and proving the market. After receiving a protracted Request For Evidence (RFE), where responding to it would have resulted in further legal expenses, Sumit had no choice but to withdraw his visa application. This is despite the fact that Mentii had already invested 40 percent of their total expenditure on immigration-related costs!
Now back in India, Sumit explains that his decision was the only option for his business; even if there was a legal (though uncertain) way to stay in the U.S. in order to grow the company, the cost of doing so was too prohibitive. While the Mentii team will still find a way to engage the U.S. market, and U.S. investors, the team will not be growing here -- in other words, no additional jobs will be created in America.
This post is by Fabien Beckers, Co-Founder at Morpheus Medical.
I am a foreign-born entrepreneur in America. My company, Morpheus Medical, has created the first cardiac diagnostic tool that provides 3D interactivity, flow and pressure inside the heart. And all it takes is a ten minute MRI exam. But since I am a French citizen, I faced deportation, and the possibility of losing the chance to build this life-saving company. Understanding the importance of immigration reform is understanding what innovators, of any nationality, are capable of achieving.
Heart-related diseases account for more than a third of all U.S. deaths, and in 2010, the total cost was estimated at around $444 billion; treatment of these diseases accounts for about $1 of every $6 spent on health care in this country. These numbers are second only to oncology -- the diagnosis and treatment of cancer.
Responding to the current lack of accuracy in diagnosis, our technology not only solves the problem, it also reduces the time required by doctors, and therefore lowers the cost. In addition, the non-invasive aspect makes our solution perfectly suited to diagnosing small children with heart defects and diseases.
After studying for my PhD at Cambridge in the UK, I came to the United States in 2010 to attend Stanford’s Graduate School of Business where I certainly benefited from the best education this country has to offer. But when I graduated and wanted to start a business of my own, I faced an additional challenge as a result of my nationality.
Founding a business is already a very challenging and chaotic process. When finding partners, investors and customers is just the beginning, immigration battles present another, totally unnecessary, hurdle.
At Morpheus, we were lucky enough to pique investor interest early, but unfortunately, the investment was conditional upon securing my immigration status. When my H-1B application was denied, my appeal failed, and other avenues were successively closed off, the survival of this company came down to one person in one office in California who thankfully put a stamp on my O1 application.
This is not how the system should work.
No company, community, or country can survive without talent. So we should be helping brilliant innovators who want to build companies that will change lives, here in America. Everyone I’ve spoken to -- Republicans and Democrats -- agrees that this issue needs attention. Now is the chance to act; this bill needs our support. A quarter of all tech startups have an immigrant founder. I think I speak for many of these founders when I say that I want to stay here and build a successful company that creates jobs. We need an immigration system that supports the American innovation economy.
If you have an immigration story to tell email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sacha Tueni, co-founder of Changemakrs, grew up in Austria. When he moved to the United States to work with Facebook’s mobile partnership team in 2009, he was granted a visa within 3 short months. As a result, when Sacha decided to start his own business, he had no sense of how complicated the immigration process could actually be for a small company with limited resources. Now Sacha spends a third of his time talking to his lawyer, instead of growing his business.
Michael Ang (or Mang as he is better known) is an engineer from Canada. He works for Changemakrs here in San Francisco. In fact, Michael has been working in the United States for over fifteen years -- mostly within the startup community. He was the first employee of Xoom -- a company that is now post IPO and employs hundreds of Americans. Despite Michael’s experience, his masters degree from NYU, and his contribution to the startup community -- and the U.S. economy as a whole, he has only ever been granted a succession of temporary visas. Watch Michael tell his story, and tell us what he’s most excited about in the new immigration bill.
If you have an immigration story to tell, email email@example.com.
It is a near-universal fact that no one enjoys filing their taxes. It’s usually difficult and most definitely a boring way to spend our too-scarce time.
GoodApril wants to change all that by disrupting the way that Americans plan for and file their income taxes. Like any founder with an idea who wants to make our lives better, Benny Joseph wanted to assemble the best possible team to execute his idea.
So that’s what he did. But right when the company was ready to take the next step, and incorporate as an official business entity, Benny realized that there was no way through the visa issue he was facing with his best engineer. The result? “We had to part ways; we couldn’t go forward together.”
Unable to hire his top-choice engineer, Benny lost the knowledge and talent he wanted, and an individual with the nerve and desire to take the risks associated with starting a company. As a result, it took the team at GoodApril longer to build their first product, and to raise funding to hire the people they needed -- including more engineers, writers, and marketers.
From the perspective of the engineer in question, he was tied, through the terms of his existing visa, to a company he didn’t want to work for. With a soon-to-expire H1B visa, and a stalled green card application, he is still being held hostage as an employee with no freedom to pursue other job opportunities.
From Benny’s point of view, and from ours, we should be rewarding risk takers, and that needs to happen through thoughtful reform. “I think the Startup Visa Act (included in Startup Act 3.0) is a good step in the right direction,” says Benny. “Immigrant entrepreneurs should be encouraged to build new businesses. If you take a look at many of the great companies in our country, a sizable amount are founded by immigrant entrepreneurs. They create jobs and value to the economy and help America keep a step ahead of the rest of the world.”
The current immigration system, with no visas for startups, and caps on existing visa classes for high-skilled workers, is harming entrepreneurs, would-be employees and the American ability to build successful businesses and innovate at capacity.
We’re collecting and publishing startup profiles and policy stories. Look out for next installments, and if you have a story of your own, we’d love to hear from you. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Places add context and color to a life; where you came from, where you’ve been, where you are and where you’ll go. Countries and cities and neighborhoods build your character and a life with character. But right now, if you don’t come from America, staying here to build a company is very difficult. That needs to change, says Marker co-founder Michael Molesky.
Marker is all about collecting the remarkable places in your life. When users capture the places they want to go, as well as the places they know and love, Marker becomes home to the living stories of the places around you, from the people you care about.
While talking to Michael, it became clear that he believes strongly in the power of people to edit and transform a place, and the power of places to shape people as well. Staying true to the second point, he left the United States to study at Oxford (in England) for his undergraduate degree.
Why? Michael believes that an education is more than just the classes we attend – we get an education from our fellow students too. “In a global economy, it’s important for Americans to have an awareness of other cultures,” he explained. “Silicon Valley is a particularly special example of the best that can come of this global economy, all because of its openness to people from different places with new ideas.”
Ultimately, Silicon Valley believes in the power of diverse information sharing, and the importance of the ability to partner with the smartest people from any country to build the next life-changing company – on American soil.
Unfortunately, the way Michael sees it, current immigration policy is holding back the dreams of Americans by not exposing them to global talent - and he nearly had his dream shattered. For his first company, his co-founders were Romanian and British -- and because of this national diversity, Mike admitted that they almost failed at the starting line. Luckily, Michael successfully sponsored visas for his co-founders, but it still took a year after getting funding to get everyone over and “we scaled more slowly as a result.” Fast forward and LiveRail now employs fifty Americans.
This is why Michael is involved with Engine. “It’s outrageous that there is no visa class for entrepreneurs,” he said, “but we need to think carefully about how we, as a community, want to make our argument.” Michael joined Engine to lend his face and his voice to otherwise anonymous policy issues because “in the end, all politics is local. In order to communicate goals, we need to demonstrate the effects of action and inaction on real people.” And that includes real people outside the Silicon Valley bubble.
In his post on Quora, Michael argues that “the Startup Visa legislation represents the most effective jobs bill on the table in this Congress, fostering the development of America's next great companies from the best talent around the world”, but he also says that to “mount an effective lobbying effort in the US House, we need to find a way to present a more broadly American story, highlighting stories in other cities and colleges around the US which also hold the key ingredients to foster entrepreneurship.”
This brings us back to the importance of places and faces. There are many faces of immigration, and many regions across the country that benefit from global talent, so as a community, this is a story we need to do a better job of telling. High-skilled immigration reform is not simply a pet project for the sole benefit of Silicon Valley. We need to support comprehensive immigration reform to expand America’s potential for growth and our competitive culture of invention.
Rutul Davè is an entrepreneur with over ten years of experience in software and marketing. He immigrated to United States to pursue a master's degree in Computer Science, fell in love with the land of opportunity and innovation, and founded Bright Funds to connect donor capital to the most effective nonprofits in the world. @letsfixtheworld
As a kid growing up in India during the 1980s, there was one public service video on television that I vividly remember even today. It was a simple message on unity, and the video showed how by joining forces one can overcome any threat that is considerably bigger and stronger.
More than 20 years later, the significance of that message was again evident to me last week. On June 19th-20th, the Bright Funds team joined 17 other startups from all over America on a two-day event on Capitol Hill. Engine Advocacy, a group with the mission to create a platform for innovators and entrepreneurs to connect with government and policymakers, put together the event and invited Bright Funds to participate.
One message was loud and clear - startups can make a difference and have a say in the government and in policy decisions.
As someone who participated in the event with some skepticism, it took me some time to come to that realization. As entrepreneurs we are busy building businesses in the face of uncertainty, and as startups we feel we are too small to have any impact on government. But sitting in a room alongside smart, driven, like minded entrepreneurs and having a conversation with congressmen from both sides of the aisle, it became clear that when united, our voices will be heard. We are the engines of economic growth and job creation. When we ask questions, present our point of view, and tell our stories, we can influence policy decisions that make it easier to start and run businesses and build the future.
We’ve shown that we can come together to influence policy decisions, with the movement to prevent poorly drafted copyright bills SOPA and PIPA from passing earlier this year. The ground-up movement was an excellent example of the strength of the technology and startup community to unite and influence a policy that would have severely limited our freedom to innovate.
I realized that my voice counts. As someone who immigrated to United States, earned a masters, and am fortunate to be a part of the innovation happening in Silicon Valley, I have had the opportunity to participate in the impact that entrepreneurship, startups and high-skilled immigration has had on the economy.
I couldn't help but make the parallels in the approach used at Startup Day and the one we use at Bright Funds, a startup that I co-founded earlier this year. Through this service, we are connecting donor capital to the most effective nonprofits in the world. We are building a community that believes in uniting the support for the most effective nonprofits that are instrumental in solving the social challenges of our time. And the biggest weapons we have in our arsenal are the technologies enabling this effort, and the unity and focus of our actions. Social challenges like ensuring access to clean water for everyone, preserving the environment, and eliminating poverty look large and intimidating, but we can achieve these goals when we join forces and we unite. Besides the passion behind solving a problem for our customers, that inspiration alone was enough to build Bright Funds.
If you are a startup, join me at Engine Advocacy and let's make a difference.