After more than 600 startups, investors, and innovators from across the country wrote to lawmakers this week, warning about the devastating consequences of a proposed tax change that could hurt small companies competing for talent, Engine applauds the Senate Committee on Finance for recent modifications to the Senate Tax Plan.
"Engine is proud to support the Support Our Startups Act, a bill that would reduce tax burdens on entrepreneurs in their first year of business. The bill from Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) would help startups hit the ground running by increasing they amount they can write off as federal tax deductions in their first year.
On Tuesday afternoon, President Donald Trump signed an executive order reiterating the Administration’s policy to buy and hire American. On the ‘Hire American’ side, the EO directs federal agencies to evaluate the various programs that allow foreign workers to enter the United States, with a particular focus on the H-1B visa program. While the EO will not have a direct, immediate impact on the H-1B program, it brings new scrutiny to a visa category relied on heavily by the tech and startup communities. In a statement responding to the EO, Engine Executive Director, Evan Engstrom, called on the the Administration to consider the concerns of the startup community when reviewing and reforming the program: “[I]t is essential that they take into account the economic realities of the startup ecosystem and work to craft reform policies that do not inadvertently make it harder for startups to hire the talented workers they need.”
H-1B season kicked off on Monday, and while the the White House missed the opportunity for a larger overhaul of the program before the lottery opened, the Administration did slip in a few changes at the last minute that have made the already chaotic process of applying for H-1Bs even more frenzied. Late last Friday, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) quietly issued a policy memo indicating a more rigorous vetting process for computer programmers. While the changes are mostly cosmetic in nature (USCIS has maintained that the guidance is a clarification of existing policy, not a “policy change”), the agency also announced on Monday that it would be increasing the number of targeted site visits to crack down on H-1B abuse and fraud. The same day, the Justice Department issued a strong warning that employers seeking H-1B visas must not discriminate against American workers. On their own, each of these changes is arguably meant to target outsourcing firms and abuse of the system, not technology companies (most of whom reserve their visas for more complicated, higher paying roles that cannot be filled by U.S. workers). But taken together, they indicate an intentional effort by the President to deliver on his campaign promise to “end forever the use of the H-1B as a cheap labor program, and institute an absolute requirement to hire American workers first for every visa and immigration program.” We’re tracking.
Today, we’re launching #StartupsEverywhere, a campaign celebrating the diverse, vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystems that are taking root in every corner of the country. The project will showcase exciting developments in a variety of rising startup communities through weekly interviews with startup ecosystem leaders. The profiles will look at issues ranging from the challenges faced by these communities to the unique qualities that set them apart from traditional technology hubs. Look out for our first profile this coming Wednesday, and stay tuned for a new featured community every week.
On Tuesday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Helping Angels Lead Our Startups (HALOS) Act by a vote of 344 to 73, an even wider margin of support than when the bill passed the House during the previous Congress. Engine applauds the House passage of the bill, which would clarify regulatory ambiguities around general solicitation to ensure that startups aren't unintentionally running afoul of securities laws when participating in demo days and pitch competitions
2016 brought with it many positive developments for startups in terms of capital access and tax policy. Investment crowdfunding finally went live, a number of bills to facilitate capital formation passed the House, and the startup community galvanized around a tax bill that would make it easier for startup employees to exercise their stock options. While many of these policy changes hang in limbo going into 2017, we believe that next year holds significant promise for improvements to the tax and financing policy landscape for startups.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 that he should consider as he sets his policy agenda.
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.
On Tuesday, Engine joined over 80 startups and entrepreneurial ecosystem leaders in urging Congressional leadership to include the Empowering Employees through Stock Ownership (EESO) Act in any legislative vehicle Congress plans to pass before the end of 2016.
Change in Leadership at the Copyright Office. Last Friday, Maria Pallante was removed from her post as Register of the Copyright Office by the new Librarian of Congress, Carla Hayden. While Pallante was reassigned as a senior advisor on digital strategy, she formally declined the new position, resigning from the Office on Monday. As the 12th Register, Pallante was both a vocal advocate of separating the Copyright Office from the Library of Congress and an early supporter of SOPA—two policies strongly opposed by the startup and tech communities, as well as public interest groups. The abrupt change-up has sent shockwaves through both the tech and entertainment industries, and many believe it is a foreshadowing of the larger copyright reform debate that is expected to occur early in the next Congress. We’re tracking.
An Engine-championed bill that would make it easier for startup employees to exercise their stock options cleared important hurdles in Congress this week. Yesterday, the House of Representatives passed the Empowering Employees Through Stock Options Act, and a companion bill cleared the Senate Finance Committee earlier in the week. Even with partisan divisions higher than usual in this contentious election year, Democrats and Republicans came together to support EESO, passing the bill unanimously in the Senate Finance Committee and with substantial bipartisan support in the House. As we’ve written in the past, because employees exercising certain types of stock options must pay an immediate tax upon exercise (even though there is no public market on which to sell some of the newly acquired shares to pay the tax), startup employees are often unable to purchase their shares, making it difficult for startups to attract and compensate top talent. EESO allows employees to defer the tax payment on options for seven years or until the underlying shares are actually sold, providing workers with the flexibility they need to realize the value of their contributions to their companies. We are hopeful that the full Senate will consider the bill as expeditiously as possible so that it can head to the President’s desk before the end of his term.
Today, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Empowering Employees through Stock Ownership Act (H.R.5719), which will encourage startup growth by making it easier for employees at private companies to exercise their stock options. The following statement can be attributed to Engine Executive Director Evan Engstrom:
Equity compensation, often in the form of stock options, is a critical tool used by startups to attract, retain, and incentivize quality employees. But stock options have a downside: current tax law requires that employees pay an immediate tax when they exercise their options, usually long before they can sell those stocks to realize their full economic value. Fortunately, a bill being considered today by the House Ways and Means Committee could remedy this problem.