“Building Successful High-Tech Startups” discussion focuses on topics such as reinvigorating the country’s appetite for research & development, opening up access to capital and how tech startups can help bridge the political divide
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) visited Portland yesterday with fellow Representatives Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) to talk entrepreneurship with Oregon high-tech startups and local business leaders. OEN was there and captured the following highlights from the one-hour roundtable.
Hosted by Urban Airship, which now employs more than 100 workers in Portland and San Francisco (also Pelosi’s district), the roundtable was an invitation for Portland-area technology startups and groups like OEN to share their ideas and feedback on how the federal government can better support emerging companies in Oregon.
While Pelosi, Bonamici and Blumenauer each made remarks about their commitment to small businesses and various pieces of economic legislation they’ve supported at the federal level, the bulk of the roundtable was spent listening to the ideas and concerns of Oregon entrepreneurs – and inviting local business startups to use their collective voices and expertise help bridge the political divide in Washington on such issues as jobs and immigration.
Bonamici, who represents Oregon’s 1st District, kicked off the discussion summarizing the importance of the high-tech sector to Oregon’s economy: 90,000 high-tech jobs across the state paying an average wage of $82,000 a year. Special guest Pelosi is no stranger to entrepreneurship, having represented California’s 8th District , which is home to many San Francisco-based tech startups, for the past 25 years.
“Portland is a center for innovation, and we recognize it in Congress and in the private sector,” said Pelosi, who gave kudos to Blumenauer for raising the visibility of Portland and the region’s focus on sustainability with political leaders in Washington. “I want to hear how you, as distruptors – and that’s a compliment – are leading in innovation to keep the U.S. number one.”
OEN Board Vice Chair Mitch Daugherty, also a small business owner, led with a question about how Congress can help increase access to capital, including seed funds. Avatron General Counsel Lauren Wallace suggested that a tax rule that gives preferential treatment to corporations could be extended to startups, which are usually registered as LLCs and do not get the same benefits. Pelosi responded that what she hears most from entrepreneurs and small businesses is the need for access to capital, a trained workforce and customers, but admitted more could and should be done, particularly with respect to small business lending.
Luke Kanies, CEO of Puppet Labs, reminded the representatives that the Internet was built by massive investment by government in major institutions, and not created by startups, and expressed concern with the gradual disappearance of large-scale research and development projects. “How do we encourage large organizations to continue to invest in big ideas that may take years to pay off while at the same time enable small companies to start up and innovate?” he asked. “It seems like we’ve lost our appetite for big research, and the career path for scientists is lacking.”
Pelosi agreed with Kanies that STEM education remains an issue, and said four words are critical to domestic policy today: “Science, science, science, science.” Bonamici, a fairly recent newcomer to Washington, said that just like entrepreneurs, the government needs to take risks in the programs it decides to invest in. “There may be many failures before we see success, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t make investments,” she said.
Cloudability CEO Mat Ellis, originally from the U.K., spoke about how the U.S. is by far the best place in the world to start a business but also among the most difficult to find highly educated employees. “There are 100,000 foreign students in the U.S. who I cannot hire because of regulations. We’re happy to educate these students but not hire them.” Avatron CEO Dave Howell agreed, adding that the cost of health care is another barrier to finding qualified employees, particularly those from out of the country.
On immigration reform for students, Pelosi said, “It hasn’t happened yet but it should. The ramifications of not doing something are a cost to our economy.” She also spoke about how the health care act was passed, in part, to give people more liberty to start businesses or change jobs, without having to worry about not getting health care coverage. “People should be able to make a job decision based on talent, experience and skill, not on health care,” said Pelosi.
All three Democrats encouraged Oregon’s entrepreneurs to lend their voices, industry expertise and credibility to help break through some of the political partisanship around issues like immigration and jobs that affect small businesses.
In her closing remarks, Pelosi said, “I think the most positive and optimistic thing a person can do is be an entrepreneur and start a startup. Don’t let the public sector slow you down.”
To share your ideas with House Leader Pelosi and Representatives Bonamici and Blumenauer, please contact:
Congressman Earl Blumenauer, Oregon’s 3rd District
Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici, Oregon’s 1st District
Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, California’s 8th District