Washington D.C. is about to get a wake-up call—from tech investors.
As the economy crawls along and Congress deliberates over an economic policy that makes sense, there are a few voices that are conspicuously absent from the conversation: investors and entrepreneurs (who, ironically, are the ones at the forefront of the new economy). If we could bring Silicon Valley savvy to the government, would we be able to solve some of our toughest economic challenges?
This is the question posed by D.C.’s newest ideas laboratory and advocacy organization, The Economic Innovation Group (EIG), which operates under the belief that the voice of investors and entrepreneurs are exactly what Washington needs. Not only do entrepreneurs exist to find problems and fix them, but they are used to doing so in the most efficient and cost-effective ways possible. The successful ones can create unity out of chaos, and can anticipate trends long before they happen. The Founding Fathers themselves were some of our best entrepreneurs, able to launch a nation out of thin air.
To achieve its mission, EIG has called in the best of the best from the tech investor community. The organization’s Founders Circle include Sean Parker (Founding President of Facebook and Co-Founder of Napster) and Ron Conway (Founder of SV Angel), as well as Rebecca Lynn (Co-Founder of Canvas Venture Fund), Joseph Sanberg (Co-Founder of Aspiration.com and Pt Capital), Dana Settle (Co-Founder of Greycroft Partners) and Ted Ullyot (Partner at Andreessen Horrowitz). EIG’s team of entrepreneurs will work directly with leading policy-makers and economists to tackle four main initiatives: closing the skills gap in our workforce, driving private investment to underserved communities, reversing the decline of new business formation, and rebuilding and modernizing America’s infrastructure.
“Our approach to public policy should leverage the lessons we learned as technology entrepreneurs and investors,” Sean Parker commented in an interview with the LA Times. “Take big risks, seek out innovative solutions, and don’t shy away from big problems.”
Among the two Co-Founders of EIG—who now serves as Executive Director—is fellow IVY Member Steve Glickman (along with Policy Director, John Lettieri), who is no stranger to the world of policy. He most recently served as the Director for International Economic Affairs at the White House, and before that was a Senior Policy Advisor of the National Economic Council. Under his wisdom and leadership, EIG will tackle some of this country’s most pressing problems.
Read his story, and connect with him below!
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What are the benefits of having Silicon Valley involved in the government? Why did you choose to focus on private sector investors and entrepreneurs? And why has no one succeeded in doing this before?
We formed the Economic Innovation Group (EIG) in response to deep, structural issues in the U.S. economy that are making it more difficult for millions of Americans to start and grow new businesses and access good, high-paying jobs. The reality is that the speed at which globalization and technology has impacted many of our communities has far exceeded the capacity of government to keep up (you can find our analysis of some of the troubling trends in the economy here).
And, yet, at a time when Washington needs new, innovative solutions, some of the most important voices in our country are missing from the policy conversation entirely, which remains stuck in the same, stale debates about the economy. We fundamentally believe that the next game changing idea in public policy can come from entrepreneurs and investors at the leading edge of our economy, if we can mobilize them to apply their ideas, energy, and resources to get our economy working for every corner of our country.
Let’s be clear, though, while we have terrific founders from the technology sector like Ron Conway, Rebecca Lynn, Sean Parker, Joe Sanberg, Dana Settle, and Ted Ullyot, our mission is not limited to Silicon Valley or Los Angeles, or primarily focused on the technology sector. There are great investors and entrepreneurs all over the country, and we want to help them find new ways to make their next investment—or build their next business—with a mindset targeted to the impact they can have on making our country more competitive.
What are the main issues EIG will focus on, and why? What are some specific initiatives you want to tackle first?
In building our policy agenda, we’ve asked ourselves three questions: (1) Which ideas are fundamentally bipartisan, and thus achievable? (2) What will drive broad-based economic growth? (3) Where is there a clear role for entrepreneurs and investors to play in solving an important problem?
We believe there is an ecosystem of interconnected issues that meet these criteria, including how to rebuild distressed communities left behind by the recession, ensure our workers have the skills they need in the new economy, modernize our infrastructure, and reverse the historic decline in the establishment of new businesses. All of these issues have bi-partisan support, could drive more robust economic growth, and demonstrate where government-only solutions have proven ineffective.
Our initial focus will be on how to incentivize more private sector investment in communities most in need of economic renewal. In fact, we just released our first white paper, authored by the co-chairs of our Economic Advisory Board, Dr. Jared Bernstein (former top advisor to President Obama and Vice President Biden) and Dr. Kevin Hassett (former top advisor to Governor Romney and Senator McCain). The paper outlines the bipartisan history of geographically based economic development incentives (i.e. Enterprise Zones), details how these programs have fallen short of their goals, and suggests an innovative new approach—using tax provisions to create new investment vehicles to spur capital infusions in depressed communities.
What’s the most challenging thing about starting a think tank? Why do some succeed, while others fail?
Well, we are essentially a small business, so that comes with all of the challenges of developing a meaningful brand, recruiting talent to grow our capacity, and ensuring we are planning for our long-term viability. But, our most important initial challenge will be in differentiating ourselves in a space where there are many good ideas and long-standing institutions. So, let me share what I think makes us unique.
First, we are not really a think tank. We think of ourselves as an ideas laboratory and advocacy organization, and while we will be developing achievable, bipartisan public policies, we also have the capacity to drive sophisticated issue campaigns, build coalitions, and move forward legislation.
Second, we are not bound by any industry or political agenda. We are free agents for transformative ideas that will bring more broad-based growth to the economy.
Third, we come to the policy debate leveraging a unique voice—that of investors and entrepreneurs —and, so, we are not just focused on thought leadership in the Washington policy space, but also in generating momentum in investor and entrepreneur communities across the country.
How do you go from thinking through a problem, to actually enacting change? How will you work with a Congress that can’t seem to agree on anything?
Our team has been working in Washington for years, and while we are not naively entering the conversation with any illusions about changing the system, we are not cynical either. We know that much of the conventional wisdom about this town sells its potential short. Yes, there has been far too much gridlock, but we believe that if you scope the right set of issues, develop a reputation as an honest broker, commit to consistent and sustained outreach, and build trusted relationships, you have the opportunity to move the needle.
In fact, we are already working with strange bedfellows—at our recent inaugural policy event with The Atlantic, Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Senator Tim Scott (R-SC) joined EIG for a conversation about their deeply shared personal commitment to addressing the lack of good jobs and workforce skills in many communities. This diversity is also built into the fabric of our organization, which includes top-notch economists from both sides of the aisle, such as Jared Bernstein, Steven Davis, Austan Goolsbee, Kevin Hassett, Ken Rogoff, and Matt Slaughter, whose views extend across the ideological spectrum.
This bi-partisanship is not easy to build—or maintain—but it’s possible, and we are seeing more and more evidence of it in DC every day.
What is your most audacious life goal?
The amazing, and harrowing, story of my grandparents’ survival from the Holocaust, settlement in Detroit as refugees, and ultimate success of their four children and dozen grandchildren, will forever be the best example for me of the unique potential of America. I will never be able to accept that the American Dream is fading away for many families in this country, so rebuilding that spirit, and recruiting the best and brightest innovators to apply their talents to the challenges our nation faces, will be a lifelong pursuit.
What are the specific ways the IVY Community can support you?
We are looking for potential evangelists and collaborators, who can help us build an ecosystem of entrepreneurs, investors, and policymakers committed to addressing economic challenges in fresh and creative ways. There are so many talented innovators in the IVY Community that we would love to engage, across a variety of industries, and we want to work with you to help channel this energy into the public policy process.
What’s the greatest piece of advice you’ve ever received?
My wife, Christen, is the wisest person I know. She constantly reminds me the importance of being mindful and counting our blessings. In Washington, it’s easy to get caught up in your career, but there is no doubt that happiness is more about finding balance, love, and meaning in the day-to-day, than it is about measuring success, no matter how important the mission may seem.
Steve Glickman is an IVY Member (DC). Connect and collaborate with him here! To learn more about IVY, please visit www.ivy.com.