Friday, November 1, 2013

unCon 2013 Session: Senator Karen Spilka MassTLC unConference Recap

Innovators and Lawmakers Working Together for Growth

Earlier this month I had the exciting opportunity to participate in the Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council (MassTLC)’s annual Innovation “unConference,” a Boston gathering of entrepreneurs, technology sector professionals and students. As co-chair of the legislature’s Tech Hub Caucus, I facilitated a session that focused on ways for government and the tech community to collaborate, innovate, and work together to advance the innovation economy in Massachusetts.

I was thrilled to speak with such a diverse audience, share my perspective on ways for the tech sector to engage with legislators, and learn about the real challenges that entrepreneurs and start-ups face in Massachusetts. It was terrific to hear so many wonderful ideas and to learn from a community of people that are really interested in and committed to engaging with government and having a say in the policies that impact their businesses and lives.

We kicked off the session with many essential questions: How can we create better connections between tech companies and state policy makers? How can state government help to nurture a business climate that is friendly to start-ups and tech companies? How can we further promote and encourage innovation and entrepreneurship?

Many of the entrepreneurs in the room explained that start-ups and innovators do not always find it easy to access or understand available government resources. In 2009, when I was Senate chair of the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies, the Committee toured the state to learn how the government could help businesses struggling in the recession. In response to what we heard, the legislature made substantial changes to address concerns about economic development and jobs creation. At the unConference, I learned that many challenges persist for start-ups and small tech companies. Some suggested that we create a start-up welcome bureau, where all state resources for new businesses in Massachusetts could be accessed in one place. The government must continue to listen to stakeholders, entrepreneurs and tech companies in order to make our attempts at assistance as effective and constructive as possible. We need to keep talking!

Massachusetts government continues to make significant economic development investments – but ultimately, we need the input and expertise of business and industry leaders to best target these investments and resources. Interaction and engagement are key. In government, we have a lot to learn and gain from the tech community. We discussed a range of ideas, including an entrepreneur-in-residence program in state agencies, ways to leverage technology and state data to solve local problems, and stronger computer science and entrepreneurship education in our schools. The tech sector and state government can work together more closely to encourage student interest in STEM careers and entrepreneurship by connecting students with mentors and potential employers, while also enhancing the public school curriculum in these areas.

Massachusetts has a remarkably strong innovation economy, and our start-ups and entrepreneurs state-wide are terrific assets for the state. I am proud to be part of a state legislature that invests resources and capital in economic development and the tech sector. However, we can provide the best, most useful support for the tech industry when we work together with innovators and business leaders and when tech leaders are involved and engaged in the political process.

Meetings, forums and conversations like those coordinated by MassTLC’s unConference are a wonderful way to bring together tech innovators and legislators. I was amazed by the accomplishments and ideas of the many inspiring entrepreneurs and innovators I met earlier this month, and I look forward to continuing the conversation!


Senator Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland) is the Majority Whip in the Massachusetts Senate and chair of the Tech Hub Caucus.

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