By Ed Smith
Los Angeles—Portable benefits. Training. Affordable housing. Occupational licensing reform. Streamlining of regulation.
A trio of young tech CEOS who kicked off the first general session of NCSL’s 44th Legislative Summit all agreed that those rather low-tech concepts were critical to nurturing entrepreneurs in the U.S.
“Automation, AI and various other technologies are changing the way we live,” said Brynne Kennedy, CEO of Topia, which describes itself as a cloud-based platform for global mobility
She noted that by one estimate 42 percent of current jobs will be automated by 2030 and challenged lawmakers in the audience on “what can you do as policymakers to prepare for this future.”
Marco Zappacosta, CEO of Thumbtack, an online service that matches customers with local professionals, said it’s important to remember that most people are not going to become tech entrepreneurs or work in tech in any capacity.
“I think it’s a travesty that entrepreneurship has been tagged as the Silicon Valley model. Plumbers, cake makers … are all entrepreneurs,” he said. “They set out by themselves to create a better future for themselves and their families. We need to broaden our focus beyond big tech companies.”
Asked a specific area where policymakers could make a big difference for people trying to make a business work, Zappacosta pointed out that reforms to “occupational licensing and the burden it imposes on entrepreneurs” is one of the few things that President Donald Trump, former President Barack Obama and others on the right and left can agree on.
Tim Chen, CEO of Nerdwallet, a personal finance website that helps people make and manage financial decisions, said nuts and bolts issues like sky-high housing costs, the expense of higher education and whipsawing policy decisions are all serious impediments to running a successful business.
Given the “the unsustainability of housing the Bay Area it does not seem feasible to continue to expand there in the next 10 years,” he said.
And higher education “is getting so expensive that even the increased earning ability is not offset by the cost of a college education.”
Amplifying that point, Zappacosta said the real issue is not so much pushing people into STEM professions, but how to create opportunities for the two-thirds of people who do not go to college. “We’ve missed the chance to promote … vocational jobs. They are well-paid and they are not going away.”
So what was their advice for policymakers? Their suggestions included:
- Immigration reform so there is access to a global talent pool
- Making health insurance and other benefits traditionally tied to employment more portable.
- Changing regulation and tax policy to make it easier for people to move across states and even countries as they do their jobs.
- Consistency in how laws are applied across the states.
Despite the obstacles entrepreneurs may face, all three of these young people were bullish on the opportunity in the U.S.
Kennedy, who spent a dozen years in school and working overseas, said returning the U.S. was an eye-opener.
“I founded the company in London and then moved ack to the U.S. One incredible thing about the U.S. is access to capital and big ideas.”
In Europe, she said, everyone told me how hard it would be to make her company successful. When she returned home, everyone encouraged her to make the next leap in her business.
“This country embraces the entrepreneurial spirit. It is unique to America.”
Ed Smith is the director of content for NCSL.