Friday, June 6, 2014

House Bill Supports Growth of Innovation Sector

The Massachusetts innovation community had reason to celebrate on Tuesday as House Speaker Bob DeLeo announced economic development legislation that included a number of initiatives that will help expand our vibrant tech economy. The announcement is the latest example of strategic investments made by the Legislature and Governor Patrick in innovation, education, and infrastructure that have contributed towards making Massachusetts a more dynamic, flexible, and transformative environment for both starting and growing companies to scale.

One provision that jumps out is prioritizing computer science education. Currently less than 1% of our high school students are taking the Computer Science AP exam – a troubling statistic that is hampering expansion and job growth in our tech sector.  The bill also includes investments in big data innovation and workforce as well as initiatives to support the talent and financing needs of start-ups. Together, these initiatives go a long way towards ensuring that we continue to grow a strong and vibrant tech community and increase our competitiveness nationally and internationally.

Highlights of the package includes:

Computer Science Education -- The bill commits $1.5 million in funding for the Massachusetts Computing Attainment Network (MassCAN), a terrific public-private partnership that works to develop and implement widespread, progressive computer science education in schools across the state. This has been a top priority of tech employers desperate for homegrown talent to fill the growing number of job openings in the field and this effort will help narrow that talent gap.

Big Data -- Big Data is one of the fastest growing clusters in the innovation economy and the $2 million in the bill for the creation of the Big Data Innovation & Workforce Fund will help promote and grow the big data and analytics industries by providing tools for related career development and exploring how analytics can help address problems of public concern like transportation, energy and public health.  Tech leaders have brought the important role of big data in the Massachusetts economy to the forefront and this new initiative confirms that policy makers and political leaders have received the message.

Mentoring, Internships, and Start-Up Financing – The legislation’s focus on growing and retaining talent and opening up new paths to financing for start-ups also zero in on what we need to take our economy to the next level through the following initiatives:
  • The nationally renowned Talent Pipeline does a terrific job of encouraging students and young innovators to get a head start by offering matching stipends for interns at innovative start-ups, and providing mentoring opportunities for new entrepreneurs, and the legislation includes $2 million to support those efforts.
  •  The bill provides $1 million for the Start-up Mentoring Program to connect early-stage entrepreneurs, technology start-ups, and small businesses with successful, experienced business enterprises and capital financing.
  •  It also sets aside $1.5 million for MassVentures which supports the innovation economy by funding early-stage, high-growth startups in Massachusetts as they move from concept to commercialization.
  • And the bill creates the Angel Investor Tax Credit making businesses eligible for a tax credit on the qualifying angel investments.

These and other initiatives are important indications that the Commonwealth can and will be a partner with the innovation sector as we seek ways to support and optimize innovation and opportunity in our economy.

There are some who were not pleased that the bill did not take up the Governor’s proposal to abolish non-compete agreements. House leadership cited the lack of consensus on the issue of non-competes and noted that any future resolution of the issue would likely not result in a proposal that is all for or against non-competes, but would instead focus on some common ground in the middle.  That is a goal we can embrace as we continue thoughtful dialogue on this issue in the weeks and month ahead.

But in the end, the tech community welcomes investments that help accelerate innovation and growth in the Massachusetts economy. This economic development legislation is another opportunity to grow our tech economy, create jobs, and make Massachusetts a world leader in innovation. Now on to the Senate.

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