Startup News Digest: 3/18/2016

Our weekly take on some of the biggest stories in startup and tech policy. 

Grading the Candidates on Tech Issues. We teamed up with Tusk Ventures and evaluated the 2016 presidential candidates' positions on the most important issues to startups and the tech community. Candidates were rated based on their statements and proposals—or lack thereof—on issues including privacy and security, the on-demand economy, and patent reform. For entrepreneurs, innovators, and technology advocates, the results were disappointing: not a single candidate scored an A grade. Who ranked highest? Read the full report card and analysis here.

New Patent Reform Bill Targets Venue. This week, Senators Flake, Gardner, and Lee introduced a piece of legislation targeting one of the most egregious—and, frankly, ridiculous—problems with our current patent system. Specifically, the Venue Equity and Non-Uniformity Elimination  (VENUE) Act would get patent cases out of the Eastern District of Texas, patent trolls’ favorite district to sue in. Together with the comprehensive reform legislation found in the PATENT Act, this bill would help put an end to a dangerous patent troll problem that continues to prey on this country’s startups and innovators. Read more about what this means for patent reform from Engine’s patent expert Julie Samuels.

POTUS at SXSW. Though the upcoming election meant that there were fewer elected officials in attendance at this year’s SXSW in Austin, President Obama’s appearance certainly made up for any shortcoming. In his keynote address, the President urged the startups and innovators in attendance to apply their skills to make it easier for citizens to interact with government and to solve broad societal problems. But the biggest story from the President’s visit to Austin was his commentary on the ongoing dispute between Apple and the FBI regarding the government’s request to force Apple to break its iPhone encryption technology. The President spoke out against what he called the “absolutist” position of the tech community and suggested that breaking strong encryption may sometimes be necessary for law enforcement activities, though he provided no indication of how he believes the government could be granted access to encrypted data without also opening up access to bad actors. Not surprisingly, the President’s statements did not go over well with the tech leaders in attendance.

Drone Provisions in FAA Bill. With the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) authorization expiring in less than two weeks, the Senate Commerce Committee voted on Wednesday to move a reauthorization bill to the floor for a vote. The legislation includes some key drone (also known as unmanned aerial systems, “UAS”) provisions: the bill would preempt state and local drone laws, call for the FAA to further examine and prioritize beyond line of sight and nighttime UAS operations, and establish a UAS traffic management (UTM) pilot program. Additionally, two amendments from Sens. Booker and Heller would establish a micro-category for UAS weighing less than 4.4 pounds and require the Department of Transportation to create a framework for drone package delivery. The Committee vote was largely met with praise from UAS industry stakeholders, who see this legislation as an important step towards the full integration of UAS into the national airspace.

Immigrant Founders. For years, the tech industry has been calling for reforms to our immigration system that would allow for more entrepreneurial talent to work to and stay in the U.S. A study released yesterday from the National Foundation for American Policy (NFAP) confirms the key role that immigrant entrepreneurs play in the U.S. startup ecosystem, finding that more than half of the current group of U.S.-based “unicorns,” or startups valued at more than $1 billion dollars, were founded by immigrants. Of the 87 companies examined, 44 have a foreign-born founder. These 44 companies are collectively valued at $168 billion and have created an average of 760 jobs per company (or 33,440 total). In an accompanying study, NFAP argues that the creation of a Startup Visa could create 1 million to 3.2 million jobs over the next decade. Engine has advocated for policies like these in the past, and will continue pushing for reforms to attract more immigrant founders to the U.S.

What Keeps Students from Pursuing Tech? We all know the representation of women and minorities in the tech industry is dismal. But why? McKinsey conducted an extensive study to get to the bottom of this and published their findings this week in the Harvard Business Review. "One major hurdle occurs very early on — many students simply decide not to give computer science a try," the authors explain. The lack of formal access and of personal networks among black and Hispanic learners is another challenge, so is an overall negative perception of the industry, a trend not seen in other countries.

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