Category: Government

Aug 19 2017

All Human Beings Have Equal Value

Arnold Schwarzenegger says it brilliantly.

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Jun 2 2017

Two Major Supreme Court Decisions on Patents

In moments of political despair, Amy reminds me that we have three branches of government. Around issues that I care a lot about and have engaged in over the years, the Judicial Branch seems to be the most functional right now, at least from my perspective.

This was reinforced by two things this week. The first was a conversation Jason and I had with senior staffers of a non-Colorado senator. They wanted to meet with us, and the agenda was open-ended around issues that startups and investors were interested in, especially ones we have been visibly talking about such as patents, immigration, and net neutrality. Several times I asked a different version of “what can we do to engage constructively” with Congress and the answer was essentially “nothing right now.” While the conversation itself had some substance to it and I liked the people we spent time with, the message I took away was that Congress didn’t have the ability, based on the current political environment, to take any action on any of these issues.

That stood sharply against the backdrop of two decisions the Supreme Court made in the last few weeks on patents. While the first was more talked about than the second, they are both important.

The first was that the justices ruled 8-0 that patent suits can be filed only in courts located in the jurisdiction where the targeted company is incorporated. If you own real estate in Marshall, Texas, it’s time to harvest your investment. According to the article (and a Stanford Law School Journal study), “more than 40 percent of all patent lawsuits are filed in East Texas. Of those, 90 percent are brought by patent trolls.” I expect in the near term Delaware courts will be clogged with patent troll cases since so many tech companies and startups are incorporated in Delaware. Hopefully, the Delaware courts will take a much less “troll-friendly” approach to things.

The second was that the Supreme Court said companies give up their patent rights when they sell an item, in a ruling that puts new limits on businesses’ ability to prevent their products from being resold at a discount. While a little more subtle, it’s equally important since this was another classic move by a certain category of company to limit downstream competition. I love what Justice Roberts wrote.

“Extending the patent rights beyond the first sale would clog the channels of commerce, with little benefit from the extra control that the patentees retain,” Roberts wrote.

While in my ideal world Congress would proactively work to establish contemporary intellectual property rights that include patents but also extend to copyright and trademark, I have no expectation that this will happen. Besides, the amount of money spent by lobbyists for companies promoting a position that supports their business model, rather than a macro-level view of the long-term dynamics, will mean, at least in the current environment, that a thoughtful, balanced approach is unlikely.

Fortunately, we’ve got the Judicial System.

“The millstones of Justice turn exceedingly slow, but grind exceedingly fine.” – John Bannister Gibson (1780-1853)

And, for now, even though the wheels of justice turn slowly, they are turning.

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May 30 2017

This Is What Democracy Looks Like

Following is a beautiful and brilliant TED talk by Anthony D. Romero, the executive director of the ACLU. It’s definitely worth 12 minutes of your life to watch.

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May 26 2017

Phil Weiser For Colorado Attorney General

Over the past fifteen years, Phil Weiser and I have worked together to make Colorado a stronger, more collaborative, and more innovative entrepreneurial community. Together, we co-chaired Governor Bill Ritter’s Innovation Council, worked to launch the Startup America Partnership (when Phil worked for Obama in the White House), started Startup Colorado, brought the Blackstone Entrepreneurs Network to Colorado, and helped CU become a first-class entrepreneurial university (which I discussed in a chapter in my book Startup Communities). Phil is a rare entrepreneur who can bring innovation to the government, which is just the sort of leadership we need now. I strongly encourage everyone to do what they can to help elect him as Colorado’s next Attorney General, including donating your time and money to his campaign.

Phil and I both share a background as Jews whose families came from Eastern Europe. That background, which involved a history of religious persecution, imprinted in each of us a deep appreciation for the constitutional rights and civil liberties that many Americans take for granted—the freedom of religion, the freedom of press, and a commitment to the due process of law (that is, people cannot just arbitrarily be rounded up). In Phil’s case, his mom was born in a concentration camp and came to the US when she was six. So protecting those freedoms at a time when we cannot take them for granted is a job that Phil will take seriously as Colorado’s next Attorney General, just like other State Attorneys General, who are already standing up to the Trump Administration to protect our constitutional rights.

Through hard work, his parents set up Phil for amazing opportunities, including the chance to serve as a law clerk for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and work for President Obama in the White House. In the spirit of paying it forward, Phil’s concern and caring for others is powerful and plain to see for all of those who worked with Phil during his time as the Dean of the CU Law School. During his time as Dean, he set up a range of innovative partnerships around the State, including a program that placed recent law grads as assistant district attorneys in rural areas. As our Attorney General, I know that he will be a leader for all Coloradans. I am personally excited to work with him in how to support entrepreneurial opportunities across our State, including in more rural parts of Colorado. While that might not sound like a traditional role of a state Attorney General, when it comes to fighting for access to broadband Internet technology and building partnerships that support economic success, Phil is unique. Consider, for example, his leadership as the founding Board Secretary of the CareerWise Colorado Initiative that supports apprenticeship-based learning across the State to create opportunities for skilled jobs for those without a college degree.

To have an Attorney General with an innovative mindset will mean that the Colorado AG’s office will become an engine of policy development and new thinking on a range of issues. Take, for example, criminal justice policy where some states around the country—often with leadership from the AG’s office—are taking a hard look at whether they are getting a good return on the social investment in our criminal justice system. Today, we put more people in jail than any nation in the world. Nonetheless, we are not aggressively enough addressing alternatives to incarceration that cut down on prison sentences. We are not investing enough yet in programs that make it less likely that inmates end up back in prison after they are released, such as Defy Ventures. We continue to make bail decisions in a way that keeps people in jail who are not flight risks just because they cannot afford to pay a bail bond. To ensure Colorado a leader in moving towards a criminal justice system that keeps us safe and is smarter, we need an AG like Phil.

Finally, when Phil talks about protecting our quality of life and our environment, he is someone we can count on. The whiplash from President Obama’s commitment to fighting climate change issues to today’s situation where we have Scott Pruitt, a climate change denier as the head of the EPA, is hard to take. Closer to home, our current Attorney General joined Scott Pruitt in challenging President Obama’s leadership in this area. As our next Attorney General, Phil will be a leader on environmental protection—like Governor Hickenlooper, who created a national model for rules restricting methane emissions by working collaboratively with the oil and gas industry and environmentalists. If we fail to elect officials like Phil who will stand up for our environment, future generations will ask us how we stood by and failed to act.

A core lesson I took from Trump’s election last fall is that we must be active in supporting candidates who we believe in. It’s not often that I have an opportunity to support a leader like Phil. So when I do have that opportunity, I feel the need to make the most of it. As a consequence of a SEC rule under Dodd-Frank, I am not allowed to donate to Phil’s campaign, but I am free to use my voice to encourage others to do so.

From my long relationship working with Phil, I can assure you that it will be a great investment in Colorado’s future and will help Colorado continue to be a model for the nation. So I strongly encourage you to donate your time and money to his campaign.

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Apr 17 2017

Support Startups for Net Neutrality

The new leader of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Chairman Ajit Pai, has said he wants to roll back existing net neutrality rules that prevent big cable companies from discriminating against online companies and services. Congress is lining up behind him.

Engine Advocacy , Y Combinator, and Techstars are organizing a letter opposing these actions, signed by startups, investors, accelerators, incubators, and entrepreneurs.

Ten zillion words have been written about Net Neutrality. In 2015, the FCC put in place light touch net neutrality rules that not only prohibit certain harmful practices, but also allow the Commission to develop and enforce rules to address new forms of discrimination. It is rumored that Chairman Pai is planning to replace this system with a set of minimum voluntary commitments, which would give a green light for Internet access providers to discriminate in unforeseen ways.

Help us send a message from startups and entrepreneurs that his rumored action to undermine net neutrality is not ok.

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Jan 29 2017

Unsettled and Disgusted

I arrived home from Australia yesterday. David Cohen and I spent the week there together to learn more about the various startup communities in Australia, to spend some time with the team that is leading Techstars Defence in Adelaide, and to watch an amazing Federer / Wawrinka semi-final.

I didn’t find out about Trump’s Executive Order on Refugees and Visas (the nicest thing I could come up with calling it) until arriving home Saturday mid-day and hearing about it from Amy. I was so jet-lagged that I took a shower and crawled into bed as I couldn’t process any new information. I was on a digital sabbath so I figured I’d read about it today.

When I woke up for dinner, Amy filled me in. I listened in a state of disbelief. At some intellectual level I knew this was coming, but I couldn’t believe that it was an executive order issued on Holocaust Remembrance Day. I’m glad the ACLU (which Amy and I strongly support) and the US judicial system is doing its job while the ban appears to be generating predictable chaos.

I’m always a little anxious when I travel internationally because of the rough experience I had getting back into the US from Canada four years ago. I know it’s an irrational emotional response on my part to be anxious since I’m US born, have a Global Entry card, and have plenty of resources. However, it always gives me a tiny flavor of how one might feel when entering the country, even without the recent executive order.

The executive orders the White House released on Friday disgust me. By directly targeting productive American residents, children, and the elderly in the name of national security, they are cynical, illogical, immoral, and extremely insensitive. Under the executive order dual citizens are at risk of being unable to return if they so much as take a vacation or visit their extended family. The whole thing is antithetical to the values my parents brought me up with, and what I think it means to be an American.

Friends, such as Fred Wilson (Make America Hate Again) and Albert Wenger (Misleading the World on Immigration) have already spoken out. Many tech companies are making statements and, like Lyft giving $1 million to the ACLU, are taking action. Chris Sacca leads and gives $150,000 to the ACLU. Techstars has sent a message to the Techstars Worldwide Network with an offer of help to anyone in our worldwide network who is impacted.

Whatever intentions the White House had, these new rules will not protect American security, will not make us safer, and will cost us, both morally and economically. I recognize the need for border protection but this order goes too far and does more harm than good. I stand with tech leaders, like Reed Hastings and Drew Houston, in calling these restrictions unAmerican and immoral.

It’s time for us – our American tech and startup community from places like Boulder, Boise, Chattanooga, Omaha, and Anchorage – to stand up and call for the White House to change course. This is not ok.

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Nov 5 2016

My Last Post About This Election – Don’t Waste Your Vote

Please vote. Just so you know my bias before reading further, I’m voting for Hillary Clinton.

This post is not aimed at you if you have already decided to vote for Clinton or for Trump. It is aimed at you if you haven’t voted, are considering not voting, or are voting for someone other than Clinton or Trump.

At this point, especially in states like Colorado where it appears the election will be close, action other than a vote for Clinton is essentially supporting Trump. Regardless of your perspective about the candidates, the election process, our current system, or anything that needs to be changed going forward, either Clinton or Trump is going to be elected president by Wednesday.

I’ve been deeply upset about many things during this election. However, at this point, I feel extremely strongly that Trump is not a suitable candidate for president. I’m appalled that things have gotten to this point and that he’s been able to get away with things he’s said and done, but I’ve struggled with how to articulate my feelings in a direct and factual way.

Fortunately, Mark Suster did it for me last week in a post titled And Then They Came for Me … I’ve read Mark’s post once a day as I pondered what I wanted to write. As Amy and I finished Episode 5 of Goliath last night, my thoughts around this finally came into focus.

You should go read Mark’s post, but the rest of this post builds off of things he wrote.

“You don’t get to pretend for 5 years that the first African American president in US history wasn’t born in the United States and then get a free pass on running for the presidency.” (Suster)

On top of this clear racism, Trump had the audacity to both claim that Clinton started this and then he finished it. This was absurd beyond comprehension. It’s a classic example of extreme misdirection, something that is woven through many of Trump’s mistakes and misdeeds. It’s the opposite of a leader who takes responsibility for his actions.

“You don’t get to launch your campaign saying illegal Mexicans are “rapists and murderers and some, I assume, are good people.” That is racist and fear mongering and stoking the flames of those who want to vilify “the other” which has been done throughout our country to the Irish, the Polish, the Jews, Italians and yes — the Germans — and every other immigrant population throughout history. Racism is disqualifying. Immigration and assimilation are two of the unique features that have made America so great over its centuries.” (Suster)

I’m Jewish. My grandparents came here from Russia and Germany in the early 1900’s. Deep in my bones, I worry the Cossacks are coming to take me away and kill me. This is a recurring theme in my discussions with my therapist and my wife who is not afraid of this, but at least empathic to my concerns.

“You don’t get to call for a religious test to enter our country, potentially denying access to more than 1 billion Muslim people in the world including very large populations in Indonesia, Pakistan, India and Bangladesh.” (Suster)

In addition to being deeply offensive to me, it violates the basic tenets on which our country was founded. As a child growing up in Texas, I learned this in eighth grade American history.

“You don’t get to say out loud that you would kiss women against their will or grab them against their will. That isn’t “locker-room talk” it is sexual assault and you don’t get to normalize that talk and then be president of our country. ” (Suster)

I’ve been extraordinarily upset by this aspect of the election, an emotion I share with literally millions of women (and many men.) Sexual assault is a real thing, not locker-room talk.

“You don’t get to pretend that you “just don’t know anything about” David Duke especially when there is this pesky fact of public record that you do know about David Duke.”

Let’s go back to that Jewish and immigrant thing.

“But on issues of racism, race-baiting, religious intolerance, misogyny, sexual assault, white supremacy and demagoguery — there can be no gray area, …. These are disqualifying issues …  If we accept leaders who embrace demagoguery, intolerance and groups of citizens who would turn on each other and vilify “the other” then eventually they will turn on us, … I am the straight son of an immigrant father from South America whose parents on both sides are Jewish and who proudly thinks of myself as an American first and foremost and everything else second.” (Suster)

I am a son of immigrant grandparents from Germany and Russia. I probably would not exist if my grandparents hadn’t managed to get to America – there is a significant chance they would have been exterminated in World War I (Russia) or World War II (Germany). I love this country and while we have many issues, I can’t imagine living anywhere else.

I encourage you to be deliberate about everything you do. You get to choose who you are and what your values are. On November 9th, either Clinton or Trump will have been elected president.

Please don’t waste your vote by not voting.

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Nov 1 2016

Why Gateway Accelerate Is A Great Choice For International Entrepreneurs

On September 15, 2016, UMSL Accelerate joined the Global EIR network and began taking applications for its international accelerator program, Gateway Accelerate. Today is the last day to apply, so if you are considering it, don’t wait.

The goal of this program is to contribute to St. Louis’s local economy and UMSL’s curricular and non-curricular offerings to its students by attracting talented entrepreneurs from around the world to relocate their business to St. Louis. There are numerous benefits to the program including assistance with cap-exempt H-1B visas applications, enrollment in a 12-week boot camp, access to discounted office space, network development, mentorship opportunities, and access to capital.

I’m excited to have a Global EIR state besides Colorado in the middle of the country. Missouri is our fourth state to go live following Massachusetts, Colorado, and Alaska. New York has a similar program, so let’s count them as five, even though they aren’t formally part of the Global EIR coalition. We’ve got another half a dozen states in different stages of launching, so look for more soon.

St. Louis has a great startup scene and a vibrant business community. I ran a marathon there several years ago with Matt Shobe and have several long time entrepreneurial friends there like Keith Alper. There are a number of accelerators in town, including Capital Innovators, Arch Grants, SixThirty, Standia, and The Yield Lab. Business growth over the last five years has been significant and 26 Fortune 1000 companies are headquartered in St. Louis across many industries including Express Scripts, Emerson Electric, Monsanto, Ameren, Sigma Aldrich, and SunEdison.

St. Louis is a good example of a vibrant city. Having stayed in a hotel in 2011 overlooking Cardinals stadium when they won the World Series, their fans definitely show up loud and proud. As I ran the marathon, I got a sense of the city, which felt healthy and diverse. With the help of the St. Louis Mosaic project, the city aims to have the fastest growing immigrant population in the U.S. by 2020.

Gateway Accelerate is a one of a kind program where 100% of its funding comes from local companies rather than the university. I hope more cities engage with immigrant entrepreneurs the way St. Louis has – it’s a great model.

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Oct 25 2016

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!

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Oct 18 2016

Denver: Conversation With Chris Sacca

Chris Sacca (Founder and Chairman Lowercase Capital and star of ABC’s Shark Tank) is in Denver on Tuesday 10/25 at Galvanize from 5:00 PM – 8:30 PM to support Hillary Clinton. Chris has been a friend for many years, is a remarkable investor, and a super compelling speaker. While I’ll be in Kansas City for a different event, if you support Hillary, are in Denver, and are an entrepreneur or investor, I encourage you to sign up and attend. Thanks to Jim Deters and Galvanize for hosting.

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