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Does your member of Congress know your startup exists?

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Photo credit: Architect of the Capitol

SPN has periodically published stories about state and local public policy as it relates to entrepreneurs and startups. But what about the federal government, particularly Congress?

Rob Placek is the Manager of Government Relations & Policy for PD Frazer Associates in Washington, D.C. He’s also a native of Alliance, Nebraska, a graduate of Creighton University and former staff member for retired Sen. Mike Johanns.

Placek sees a big – but not insurmountable – challenge in dealing with Congress and federal agencies around innovation and entrepreneurship. But it will take time and education.

“It’s frustrating that it took the SEC 3 years from passage of the JOBS (Jumpstart Our Business Startups) Act to publish regulations on crowdfunding,” Placek said. “And since the JOBS Act was passed, there have only been two bills that mention startups.”

Placek thinks part of the problem is that lawmakers in general don’t have a good handle on innovation or technology and how to have a positive impact through public policy.

“A lot of them have no clue how the Internet works,” Placek said. “Lawmakers need encouragement to get involved in figuring out how innovation works.”

Missouri, Nebraska members of congress get innovation

There are exceptions, however. Among them are Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, Sen. Claire McKaskill of Missouri and Sen. Deb Fischer of Nebraska. They represent a relatively small segment of Congress who understand how to leverage technology and social media for constituent interaction.

“You need to find legislators and regulators who are innovative or willing to learn,” Placek said. “They need to understand how to match their communication style with entrepreneurs. If you’re going to tweet at a senator, they need to know how to be part of that conversation.”

In prepared remarks for a speech delivered in June, Rep. McMorris Rodgers talked about the intersection of technology and politics.

“Innovations in technology have the potential to revolutionize the way citizens interact with their elected officials,” she said. “If you have access to a computer or smart phone, you have access to Congress.”

She feels that effective use of technology and social media could significantly improve constituent interaction and responsiveness on the part of government officials, but there are roadblocks to be overcome.

“If you have access to a computer or smart phone, you have access to Congress”

 

“Our staff are hidden behind a firewall of processes and software that are alienating the people we represent, and are costing us millions of dollars in licensing fees to boot,” she said. “So recently we’ve begun to think about a new project to create an open-source solution for constituent communications that anyone could add on to. What if we could tap into the energy of civic technologists?”

Sen. McKaskill uses Twitter numerous times daily to interact directly with constituents, discuss issues and let people know what she’s up to. This is well beyond the more common use of technology to simply push out press releases.

“Actively seeing what these elected officials are doing in real time makes you feel like you know them a little better,” Placek said.

Sen. Fischer has spent considerable time visiting and talking with startup companies in Nebraska, and is an active social media user.

Earlier this month she tweeted, “Today, I toured three #OmahaBusinesses excelling in technology, entrepreneurship and innovation.”

Startups need to make the first move

Getting government officials in the door of startups is a great way to educate them about issues faced by entrepreneurs. And it’s important for businesses to consider taking the first step.

“Congress is reactive in most every situation,” Placek said. “It’s easier to play offense by introducing yourself and your needs to begin with. If they don’t know you, what you do or what you need, they can’t do anything.”

Placek said it’s nearly impossible to disrupt an institution like Congress.

“However, it can readily be influenced to advocate on your behalf,” he said. “If companies can help them learn, the better informed policy makers will be.”

Rod Armstrong is Vice President of Strategic Partnerships for AIM in Lincoln, Nebraska. He is a regular contributor to Silicon Prairie News.

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