Insights from our Tech Startup Roundtable with Congressman Smith

A month or so ago a representative from Congressman Adam Smith’s office reached out to meet with me and discuss what’s working and not working in the Puget Sound tech community. Rather than take time to just hear from me, I offered to invite some of our regional tech leaders to a meeting.

The more diverse voices that are heard the better. With women and people of color included in a group of various ages and segments of the tech community, we had an opportunity to create valuable conversations.

Yesterday the result of that call became a Tech Startup Roundtable with Congressman Smith, me, Dave Parker (Community Builder, Venture Investor), Bryan Copley (City Bldr), Rohre Titcomb (Female Founders Alliance), Lisa Goodman (Centeris), Tushar Garg (FlyHomes), Nate Miles (Eli Lily), Al Herron (Aisha Enterprises), Nick Ellingson (WTIA), and Ian Griswold (WTIA).

As a synopsis, the major positive experience is that our community continues to grow. As you probably know, the thriving Washington technology industry is attracting talented people for across the globe.

The challenges that were shared generally fell into these areas:

  • Like all startup communities, the top wish is for more access to capital.
  • Student loans are holding back entrepreneurship and forcing graduates to seek employment even if they’d like to start a company and become an employer.
  • The gap between the skills needed for tech startups and people educated with those skills is still large. WTIA’s apprenti program is working with Washington community colleges and tech companies to help fill that gap.
  • Startups have a challenging time retaining talent. Good people with skills that are in demand routinely get recruited away to Amazon, Microsoft, Google and other enterprise companies who can offer higher salaries and stock options.
  • Diversity hires are a focus for many startups. Inclusive hiring practices are bringing them in and it takes woke, respectful, inclusive environments to keep them from leaving.
  • Opportunity zones help startup culture by creating more affordable office space. It’s important in these zones to make sure resident requirements exist for them to truly help the people who need it rather than to wealthy developers.

Congressman Smith was refreshingly real and down to Earth with a genuine desire for creating positive changes. While acknowledging that he, and we all, have more questions than answers to these issues, his team is proactively listening to what’s needed and exploring solutions.

After meeting three of our representatives over the past few years I believe that we’re fortunate in Washington. We have some smart caring representatives that are doing good work for us. If you have input on any issues they can help with please reach out and connect with them.

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