Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS) Meets with Leap2 on Startup Day Across AMerica, 29 August 2013

A Handshake, A Conversation and Why It Matters

Connecting with Congress can have great benefits for your startup, and your community

Since starting Engine two years ago, we’ve welcomed a number of Senators and Representatives to our San Francisco office for roundtable discussions. Each time we do, I am struck by the conversations I have with entrepreneurs after the event. I often speak to someone who either hasn’t attended our events before, or who perhaps has, but spoke up for the first time and is thrilled at the prospect of a mutual engagement with elected officials.

The realization that their Members of Congress get it, that they care, and that these short interchanges can make a world of difference in how these debates proceed, is incredibly powerful. A big part of my job as Chief Strategist at Engine is to facilitate more of these discussions.

Entrepreneurs are finding their place, and their voice in political debates.

How startups work, create jobs and impact the local economy, is, while in many ways the same, also fundamentally different from our traditional understanding of small business growth. Elected representatives need to understand this — we’re dealing with new entrepreneurial patterns that don’t fit into old legislative models. By facilitating conversations, both parties — the startup founders and their elected officials — can begin to find new ways of encouraging economic growth.

We recently worked with the Kauffman Foundation to quantify these effects in a recent report, Tech Starts. The picture that emerges is clear: young tech companies create better, higher-wage and longer lasting jobs than other companies of similar age — and they do it with a multiplier effect that strengthens the community around them.

Silicon Valley and New York are still leading the charge in America’s entrepreneurial revolution, but for the first time in a very long time, these two hubs of the startup world are supported — and challenged — by new hubs in cities across the country. These nodes, places like Austin and Kansas City, Missoula and Nashville, Boulder, Cambridge and more, are quickly making themselves the epicenter of a budding national movement towards young, technology-focused businesses that are growing and creating jobs at a rate unparalleled in the marketplace today.

Startups are strengthening communities all over the country.

Good news for a country still recovering from deep recession.

Elected officials are also beginning to pick up on the fact that this new type of business activity is emerging in their districts, but more can be done to help technology entrepreneurs and the companies they create. We need to make starting a high-growth company more than just an option for the young, (mostly) male computer science grads who are lucky enough to live in the venture-cash-flush ‘Valley’. Building a high-growth company should be a reasonable aspiration of individuals from a greater variety of backgrounds.

Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-WA) meets with startups in Redmond, WA

During the District Work Period this August, we worked with over 40 Congressional offices to facilitate meetings between members and startups in their district, so they can learn about businesses that are growing at home, and how they can encourage more of this activity. The flagship events took place all across the country last week on Thursday, which we dubbed Startup Day Across America.

Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) meets with SendGrid employees in Denver.

We’ve had great partners in the Congressional Internet and Entrepreneurship Caucus, Up Global, 1776, The Kauffman Foundation, T4A and many more, and we’re so excited that events took place in 16 cities on August 29th, and that there will be more in the coming weeks.

And this is just the beginning, it will take sustained engagement from both sides to move forward a number of debates that matter. The imperative is clear and the policy prescriptions are getting more defined, it’s time for legislators and entrepreneurs to work together, strengthen our communities and grow our economy.

Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) meets with startups in Arlington, VA

Michael McGeary is the co-founder and Chief Strategist for Engine, a 501(c)3 and 501(c)4 non-profit, based in San Francisco.