It was an honor to host Congresswoman Suzan DelBene’s Entrepreneur Roundtable discussion today. It was great to see the room filled with leaders, entrepreneurs, and job creators. I had the privilege to introduce Congresswoman Suzan DelBene and what impresses me most is that she has walked in our shoes before. She has over a decade of technology experience at Microsoft. She was a VP and help found Drugstore.com. She was CEO of Nimble Technology, a startup which survived the dot-com bubble and managed to get bought out by a publicly traded company. She also was appointed Director of the Department of Revenue for Washington State. I’ve never seen a person in Congress that has such a solid mix of technology experience, entrepreneurship, and public sector experience.
$5K in Grant Money for Business Development
The discussion covered a lot of different things – I’ll highlight one idea which came from Jeff MacDuff, CTO of Buddy. He talked about how he was able to get a $5K grant and from that grant he was able to apply it to business development for Buddy. He said the ROI on the $5K led to new business for Buddy and resulted in the hiring of eight new employees. He suggested that rather than the Government provide a large amount of grant money to a single company, it would great to have $10K be allocated to a lot of startups. That $5K could be spent on things specifically for business development. I couldn’t agree more.
Let’s Stop Focusing on the Top 1%
I think it’s great that there are accelerators out there like TechStars, Y Combinator, Azure Accelerator as they provide funding and mentorship to the top startups that they select. It’s these companies that get all the press from TechCrunch and Geekwire. In some states like NY they even have been investing along side these accelerators. I think it is completely short sighted to just focus on the 10 companies who get selected into these accelerators. In my experience over the last five years running thinkspace, there are far better companies to be investing and supporting who are actually successful, have viable business models, generate revenue, and create jobs. Some of these companies are still operating after five years which is a far better survival statistic than those startups that go through those accelerators. I’d argue that if the government really wanted to support job creation and support startups and entrepreneurs that they dig deeper and look beyond what is in the trendy accelerators.
Government Supporting Entrepreneurs
It is my opinion that there are two things that entrepreneurs need most: 1) mentorship and 2) access to cash. As an entrepreneur, you’re getting yourself into things that you have little or no expertise in. When just starting out, it’s impossible to hire for all those areas which you lack the knowledge. The best thing that you can do is get advisors and mentors to fill those knowledge gaps. One of the biggest problems is that most of the time you don’t even know who is the subject matter expert is. Also, building up your network takes a tremendous amount of time of which most first time entrepreneurs just haven’t invested the time do that. Perhaps this means more of a public-private partnership where people in the public sector who have the ability to open doors reach out and support entrepreneurs. Right now, it seems like the people that help support entrepreneurs are from the private sector. Rather than it always be Government officials talking to large groups of people, what if they actually opened themselves up to smaller groups or even one-on-one situations?
Access to Capital. This one has been beat over the head a million times over. It’s so incredibly difficult to get access to capital and because of the financial crisis with the recession it has become nearly impossible. We’re all tired of hearing the rhetoric that there’s a lot of money out there for small business and startups. Truth is there isn’t. Even when there are funds available to startups, it’s hard to find out where they are and how to access them. I’d like to see tax incentives to accredited investors who are interested in investing in startups and small businesses with less than 50 people. Tax incentives to the big companies is fine and dandy but those same tax incentives need to reach further into the smaller companies and the people that are willing to take a chance on them.
I’m glad that our discussion didn’t become a debate about the “Balance Budget Amendment” or lets just cut spending no matter what it is. I agree with Congresswoman Susan DelBene that it is short sighted to just cut anything and everything. We can’t go cutting education programs for our youth as it will certainly bite us in the future. In fact, I would say we need to double down and further invest in education programs to encourage the younger generation to get more skills, better training, and increase access to available programs. We can’t fix our nations problems purely through cutting spending. I like what Congresswoman DelBene said about creating policy that also has measurable results. It’s about figuring out the ROI on various policies. That’s where her experience as a startup CEO and entrepreneur come into play. She understands that if you’re going to invest in something you need to be able to measure the outcome. I have so much respect for people that can think this way, versus mindless spending and hoping for results! I look forward to seeing what Congresswoman DelBene is able to achieve and I definitely want to say that I’m committed to helping her as much as I can.
What are your thoughts?
What else can we do to support Congresswoman DelBene so that she can best represent entrepreneurs and startups?
Below is a list of the leaders, entrepreneurs, startup people, and job creators that sat at the roundtable:
Ali Spain, AK Group
Carley Slater, Washington Interactive Network
Congresswoman Suzan DelBene
Dave McLauchlan CEO, Buddy
Don Alvarez, CEO, Big Environments
Eric Zhuang, Power Info
Erika Vandenbrande, Economic Development Manager, City of Redmond
Gabriel Gervelis, G Search Marketing, SEO
Howard Mahran, Founder and CEO, Deep Domain
Jeff MacDuff, CTO, Buddy
Kathie Flood, Managing Director, Cascade Game Foundry
Kristina Hudson, Executive Director, Washington Interactive Network
Mike Banfield, Springstar
Peter Chee, Founder and CEO, thinkspace
Sailesh Chutani, CEO, Mobisante
Thomas Schulte, President and CEO, Nexgenia
Tom Clement, CEO, Aqueduct Neurosciences
Tom Grina, CFO, WildTangent Games
Marketplace Fairness Act: KING5 TV!
Immediately following the Entrepreneur Roundtable event, Congresswoman DelBene conducted a interview with KING5 TV inside thinkspace on the support of the Marketplace Fairness Act.