Tech in New York - Governor Cuomo’s 2015 Opportunity Agenda


With Engine having recently expanded to New York, we’re paying closer attention than ever to the decisions being made in Albany and their impact on the state’s tech sector. New York is home to one of the largest and most rapidly expanding startup communities in the country, so local and state level policies on investment and regulation have implications for the future of tech in all fifty states. This afternoon, Governor Cuomo laid out his vision for 2015 in a combined State of the State and budget address, along with a 500-page policy book that included additional proposals and details. While the presentation covered a wide range of topics from criminal justice to transportation infrastructure, the Governor did include several initiatives of particular interest to the startup community in both the education and economic development sections of his speech. For example, the Governor discussed his recently announced New NY Broadband Program, which would provide matching funds for internet service providers that invest in high-speed broadband in underserved areas. Access to broadband is essential not just for consumers, but for growing and potential startup communities as well. By using state funds to leverage private investments, this program could go a long way towards supporting innovation around the state. At the same time, the Governor avoided mention of the proposed merger of Comcast and Time Warner Cable, which would do much to undermine efforts to improve broadband access here in New York and around the country. Giving Comcast that kind of monopolistic control over broadband would remove almost any incentive for them to provide the higher internet speeds necessary for startups to thrive, and for us to remain competitive with other countries. Governor Cuomo has previously indicated his concerns about the proposed merger, and the state’s Public Service Commission is currently reviewing the deal to determine if it would benefit or harm New Yorkers. We urge the Governor and the PSC to oppose this deal, and continue to champion high-speed access for all New Yorkers. The Governor also talked about expanding a number of programs that would provide startups with access to capital, technical support, and other incentives. One proposal particularly worth noting is doubling the NY State Innovation Venture Capital Fund from $50 million to $100 million. The Fund is overseen by Empire State Development, and provides two types of investments: small pre-seed stage investments of up to $100,000 to startups associated with universities in state; and investments of up to $5 million in businesses in strategic tech industries. This additional capital, and the private investment it can leverage, could make a big difference for some startups that would otherwise have trouble accessing funding. And the state can do even more to help New York startups access capital. In his campaign policy book released in October, Governor Cuomo declared his support for equity crowdfunding, which provides financing opportunity for businesses that have a hard time attracting traditional venture capital. Crowdfunding has proven to be especially beneficial to women and minority owned startups. And while the real solution is federal authorization of equity crowdfunding, New York could join more than a dozen other states that have already authorizing intrastate crowdfunding. This would not only provide greater opportunities for diverse startups in Queens or Albany or Rochester, it would help build momentum towards federal action. We hope to see more support from the Governor on this subject in the months ahead. The Governor also discussed a package of proposals to improve higher education in ways that would better prepare students for tech jobs and help startups access the talent they need in order to grow. He talked about creating partnerships between community colleges and employers, and rewarding schools who use those partnerships to provide students with real-world job skills. He proposed an Employee Training Incentive Program that would provide tax incentives for companies that provide on-the-job training. And perhaps most exciting, Governor Cuomo proposed changes that would streamline approval of new programs and degrees both at higher education institutions and high-quality proprietary schools. Recognizing that the skills many new employers need change on a yearly or even monthly basis, he said that “it can no longer take two years for a new degree or training program to be approved.” With startups in constant need of new talent, we welcome the Governor’s commitment to providing students in New York relevant skills. And since startups account for all net new job growth in the United States, making sure those jobs go to New Yorkers is good local economic policy. As more decisions around the details and implementation of these proposals get made, we’ll be working to ensure that startups play a meaningful part in the conversation. And we’ll continue looking for other ways policy makers here in New York can support innovation throughout the state.