August 21st was the official celebration of Congressional Startup Day -- a unique opportunity for lawmakers to celebrate entrepreneurial excellence in their districts and states over the August congressional recess.
This week, WayUp had the honor of hosting Congressman Jerry Nadler (NY-10th district) at our HQ in New York City. Not only is the congressman the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, but he also represents a large district in NYC where about a third of my employees live, and where hundreds of thousands of WayUp users reside. So, needless to say, it was an incredible opportunity.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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 email@example.com.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.