We Need More Entrepreneurs In Congress

As we come to the end of a particularly noisy and contentious election cycle, a thought echoes over and over in my mind – we need more entrepreneurs in Congress. As I continue to believe that innovation and entrepreneurship are the key drivers to our economic future, it’s frustrating to hear such little cogent discussion around it.

I recently got a call from a long time friend, Martin Babinec. Martin is running for Congress in Upstate New York (District 22) as an Independent. We met in 1991 when Martin had just started his company (TriNet – now a public company) and Feld Technologies (my first company) was a dozen people. We’ve been friends ever since and when he told me he was running for Congress, I smiled, gave him feedback, and listened to his reasoning.

He recently did a debate with his two other candidates at Colgate University. It was sent to me yesterday and I watched it last night in the background as I was grinding through email. It was incredibly refreshing after watching each of the presidential debates. Martin did a great job and reminded me why I think more people like Martin should be in Congress.

When I think of his background compared to the other candidates, and how he ended up running for Congress, it’s a powerful narrative. He moved his family back to his home town of Little Falls NY in 1999 to be closer to his parents (and his kids grandparents) and then commuted to Silicon Valley for 11 years while running TriNet. He saw first hand how the lack of new, innovative companies caused some of the best talent in Upstate New York to leave – and decided to do something about it.

In 2010 Martin started a non-profit called Upstate Venture Connect with a mission is to connect first time entrepreneurs in new industries with the resources who can help them across the entire Upstate NY region. He helped launch six seed capital funds, three college accelerator programs, the StartFast Venture Accelerator. He engaged deeply in his startup community and was one of the leaders.

When he called me about running for Congress, my first question to him was “why are you doing this?” He was clear – he’s frustrated with hearing politicians talk about creating jobs and then repeating the failed corporate welfare strategies of the past as they hope for a different result. His goal was to shift the discussion and resources towards fostering an environment that supports local innovative companies and a thriving startup community over attracting businesses to the region. Ultimately, he thinks – as do I – that this is the best long term approach to creating vibrant economies.

Rather than play into the existing political infrastructure in New York, Martin did what any great entrepreneur does and started a new political party. He’s running as an independent, having created the Upstate Jobs Party.

I hope Martin gets elected – I know he’d be a strong, thoughtful, capable, and disciplined member of Congress. He’s an incredibly hard worker, which I respect immensely. And he’s a critical thinker, capable of listening and learning about things he’s being exposed to for the first time.

District 22 covers a big area in the middle of Upstate New York (roughly Utica to just east of Syracuse and south to Binghamton.) If you are in this region, I strongly encourage you to support Martin Babinec for Congress!

Also published on Medium.

  • conorop

    While I’m still working on my entrepreneurial career, I too have future political aspirations on a local level. The only way we are going to see significant gains is if we start getting experimental with schooling, infrastructure, and job growth. Heck – even simple quality of life improvements like parks and how we plow (up here in MN).

    My better half recently left a career in government, and one of her biggest takeaways is how traditional political direction (smaller gov vs more programs) barely move the needle. The ship is too big with too many old parts that can’t be replaced. We need more people who will rethink the ship itself.

  • Martin sounds great so I will focus just on the headline of the post.

    The reason we don’t have “More Entrepreneurs In Congress” is because tech has historically not donated enough money to enough places to cultivate the candidates it wants. You have said in the past that you don’t feel you should have to donate – that is fine but Karl Rove gets the type of Members of Congress he wants because he builds money machines that go in and support the type of people he wants broadly and deeply.

    There is a ton of path dependency in politics, for the vast majority of people involved (the non-Polis, Bloomberg candidates). Jared and Mike are great but you can’t get enough support built off of independently wealthy entrepreneurs alone – there is not enough of them. Karl has been successful because he builds up thousands of the type of people he likes when they are running for city council, when they are making long shot state senate races. He is the 500 startups of political money, spraying money anywhere small and remote – as long as they agree with his values.

    Tech is new and so they are still overwhelmingly donating to glamor races like Obama ’08. They will figure it out at some point, but it will probably be another 10 years before they really get going and then another 10 years after that for the early bets to grow into a real force.

  • Mike Ceranski

    Last year I spent some time in downtown Pittsburgh and was surprised by the evident entrepreneurial spirit. From overheard conversations it was audible in restaurants, bars, and hotel lobbies. I asked around and found that the Pittsburgh politicos and business leaders had made a decision years earlier to re-invent the city and foster such an environment. I have to say, they seem to be on the right track. Having spent time in upstate and especially western NY, I hope Martin wins and helps bring vigor to the area.

  • having visited this area of upstate NY frequently (my son goes to college at Hamilton near Utica) it is clearly economically depressed and really needs more entrepreneurial activity – best of luck to Martin

  • Absolutely, we need more entrepreneurs in most if not all levels of government. Preferably successful entrepreneurs whose every business doesn’t end in Chapter 11.

  • StevenHB

    Maybe we need some VCs to run for Congress, too, Brad!

    (I’m certain that you’ll respond that there are few jobs you’d want less than “politician”)

    • Yeah – well – professor, lawyer, and politician are all about the same for me …

  • Entrepreneur in Congress = optimal strategy for driving entrepreneur completely crazy.

  • tnic99

    If Obama can consider VC for his next gig, why not? Go for it Martin!

  • Martin Babinec

    Brad – I am humbled by your kind words and active effort to spread awareness among your many friends.

    Your own writings, and more importantly actions, have been a huge influence on what led to Upstate Venture Connect and ultimately this effort to drive change on the political side.

    Putting it all out there to run for Congress has been a life changing experience that’s changed my understanding of the political process and strengthened my resolve to try and put some sanity into the public discourse of how things really work when it comes to creating companies and jobs.

    As a political novice, I’ll share my biggest surprise has been how the entire election process is skewed towards making it easier for incumbents to get re-elected.

    From arcane ballot access provisions to campaign finance and the all important name recognition for uninformed voters, career politicians have been very successful in building a system that perpetuates leveraging the power of incumbency that is far removed from the vision our country’s founders had of taking turns doing short stints of public service – a sharp contrast to career politicians that now work the system to their benefit.

    You can count on me encouraging others thinking about serving our country and using their entrepreneurial background to make a difference.

    For those not fitting into either the D or R box, I’ll suggest checking out our documentary “Running Independent” to get an insider’s view of the ultimate challenge in going beyond the two party system to break all the rules.

    Sometime after November 8th I look forward to sharing a few more thoughts.