This piece originally appeared in Fast Company on July 28, 2023.
Tech startups are leading the innovation revolution, driving economic growth, and changing the world around us. But the elephant in the room is how federal and state government policies, rulemakings, and politics affect how entrepreneurs grow their businesses and get their products into the hands of consumers.
From immigration issues to intellectual property, Congress, the White House, and literally hundreds of regulatory bodies can make or break your day. As a tech entrepreneur, you have an important role in determining which way it goes.
Here are four areas where the federal government and politics impact new tech businesses and some tips for how business leaders can effectively navigate these changing dynamics.
FRIENDS IN HIGH PLACES
Legislative activities on Capitol Hill, including bills related to taxes, technology, infrastructure, workforce development, and climate change, shape the policy framework within which tech startups operate.
Tax policies can directly impact a startup’s financial viability and investment decisions, while legislation related to technology and innovation can influence market access, competitive standing, and business practices related to intellectual property rights, data privacy, and more.
One proactive—and attainable—goal business leaders should consider is building direct relationships with members of Congress to establish themselves as policy resources. Tech innovation dramatically outpaces policymaker understanding. As elected officials and staff struggle to catch up, directly sharing your experiences will help ensure that the very decision-makers who are shaping industry-governing policies will craft them thoughtfully to aid—not hinder—your industry.
KNOWLEDGE IS POWER
Thousands of federal regulations issued each year by various agencies have significant implications for tech startups.
Ask any established C-suite in America today, and they will tell you regulations related to data protection, cybersecurity, product safety, and industry-specific compliance requirements have a tremendous effect on operational procedures, costs, and market viability. Being aware of and staying in front of federal rulemaking can alter a company’s bottom line, particularly when there is an opportunity to submit comments from your perspective in response to an agency rulemaking process or request for information.
While startups should not waste their time scouring the Federal Register every day, it is essential to stay informed about the rulemaking process in general and be on the lookout for trends. Monitoring industry publications, engaging legal experts, and leveraging industry networks can help startups proactively assess and adapt to evolving regulatory requirements, avoiding unexpected hurdles.
Federal government policies and programs play a crucial role in shaping the funding landscape for tech startups.
Initiatives such as Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grants and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) grants provide critical funding for early-stage research and innovation. Additionally, federal agencies like the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Department of Defense (DoD), and Department of Energy (DOE) offer specific grant programs for startups in those industry sectors, from machine learning and AI to water reuse technologies and biofuel production.
Do not overlook the role of non-dilutive capital coming from federal government funding opportunities. Grant writing experts can help you understand the criteria and application processes and provide logistical support and guidance, giving your company an upper hand in securing funding and growing your business.
NETWORK, NETWORK, NETWORK
Tech startups can benefit from collaboration and partnerships with the federal government. Government agencies often seek innovative solutions from startups through challenges, pilot programs, and procurement contracts. These collaborations provide startups with opportunities for revenue growth, market validation, and access to government resources.
Tech startups should actively explore government procurement opportunities and leverage resources such as the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization (OSDBU) to navigate the procurement process effectively. Networking with government agencies, participating in industry conferences, and forming partnerships with established contractors can increase the chances of success in the government sector.
Here’s the bottom line: take control of your story and don’t hope decision-makers are hearing you; make sure they are listening to you. Treat lawmakers and regulators as you would a customer by showcasing how you support local economies and families, create value in the market, and serve their interests.
In some circumstances, membership in a relevant trade association or coalition of companies can add value to your efforts, provided you engage and fully leverage it. Don’t simply send a check and assume your problems will be resolved.
But for many, that is not enough. Find a partner on the ground in D.C. who will help you navigate this space, be honest about what your precious dollars are worth, and be creative in separating yourself from a sea of other startups. By staying informed, engaging with decision-makers, and actively participating in shaping policies, your startup can navigate the dynamic regulatory landscape and policy environment and leverage opportunities for growth.