Mike McGeary, Engine Advocacy
Mike McGeary is the Political Director and Senior Strategist of Engine Advocacy, a coalition of member startups dedicated to educating policymakers on the value of American innovation and entrepreneurship as well as promoting the importance of public policy among startups and entrepreneurs in the United States. He is also a strategist with Hattery Labs, a San Francisco-based design and innovation consultancy within which Engine was born. Mike recently took some time out of his schedule to speak with me about his work and why technology policy is critical to maintaining American competitiveness in the long term.
Tell me about your work with Engine Advocacy.
We started Engine about a year ago when I was at Hattery. The thought was that we [at Hattery] were going to make investments for early stage companies, and we realized there wasn’t a voice for this community. We wanted to make sure that this community’s needs were represented. As we were really getting ramped up and building our presence, we started getting calls on SOPA and it was off to the races. We’ve worked on things from the JOBS Act to CISPA and STEM visas. All things are focused on what can help this community quickly and with lasting effect.
In your opinion, what are the top 3 issues facing startups and entrepreneurs in America, and what is actually being discussed in Washington?
Everything comes back to jobs–the difference is how these issues are framed around creating jobs. Immigration is absolutely vital in this community no matter where you are. It doesn’t matter if you’re building a startup in San Francisco or Boulder or Boise; we’re literally just sending jobs overseas. Immigration’s the top line and we have to find better solutions there.
Another one that keeps coming up is patents. America Invents was supposed to fix some of this and it really didn’t do a lot in terms of software patents. Now we’re going back and seeing what can we do. These [software] patents are fundamentally different from biotech and pharma patents in terms of who has ownership and what exactly is covered under the patent. The question is, how do we make this easier and not stunt innovation going forward?
Lastly, education. Our team at Engine can project out the growth trajectory now–seven to eight years from now, [education] is what’s going to power the American economy, but if we don’t invest in education and fill in the labor gap, there’s a huge delta there when we get to 2020 between the level of education of our citizens and the available jobs to fill.
Everything comes back to jobs, but our argument is that to create jobs, you have to invest in the startup community. We have to fix the structural problems that we’ve built with the current regulatory regimes. We can get there; our argument is, “Work with us and let us help you get there.”
What do you think are the biggest policy barriers to technology entrepreneurship, regardless of field? What’s currently being done to address these barriers?
It’s understanding what a startup community looks like. We have to educate both [entrepreneurs and policymakers]; we have to go to the government and say we’re different than traditional businesses and large technology companies. Everybody wants to be the next Facebook or Apple or Google, but we’re not there yet. We have to be better at educating policymakers on what it means to be in San Francisco hacking together something at a coffee shop. That is not something that Washington understands, and entrepreneurs don’t understand the deliberateness of government and the challenge for policymakers in building consensus among varied constituencies. We have to show policymakers how all these issues tie together and affect the economy at large.
Honestly, it’s an engineering view. All the systems have to work together for the entire system to work. Moving the system takes time. We’re talking to these policymakers about the things we believe in and the solutions that can work.
What are your thoughts on the current administration’s stance on cultivating innovation and entrepreneurship in the United States?
Making Todd Park [the Chief Technology Officer of the White House] has been huge. He was in San Francisco for the Code for America Summit and spends a lot of time in San Francisco engaging with the tech industry. Learning lessons from Silicon Valley and the tech industry is going to be imperative for building entrepreneurial communities across the country, and that’s also has to come with a scientific, technologically focused background like what Todd offers.
How can students get involved?
First, if you are of the entrepreneurial mind and you have something you’re working on, come join Engine. We’ll be doing events all over the country so look out for that.
However, your focus in entrepreneurship should not be on policy. Know that there are organizations like us that are doing this work for you. Go work on your product. If there’s an issue that’s important to you, we’ll tell your story. Know that we’re trying to make life easier for you so that you can change the world.