Thursday, August 19, 2010

Luncheon with Jared Polis

Photo by Todd Vernon

I was lucky enough, and honored, to be a part of a luncheon in Boulder today with Congressman Jared Polis, and a great sample of Boulder's startup community. There were roughly 30 of us around a table at the staple "The Kitchen" restaurant. 20 entrepreneurs (~10 from software firms, and ~10 from bio/pharma (a few "other")), 7 Venture Capitalists, and 3 associated with Congressman Polis. Five things struck me.
  1. The amount of regulation (accounting, quality, approval, testing, manufacturing, etc) around bio/pharma dominated the conversation, and it was clear we weren't even touching the tip of the iceberg.
  2. The relative lack of regulation around software led to near silence among the software crew. There are a few key issues (e.g. StartupVisa), but otherwise at a federal level, things are relatively peachy. A few of my software buddies and I looked at eachother during the conversation with a look of "yikes, I'm glad I don't have to worry about *that*" on our faces.
  3. A U.S. Representative's ability, or lack-thereof, to triage incoming information will make or break them. I was astounded at Congressman Polis' ability listen, digest, and engage on a truly random set of complex topics; on the fly. Talk about being "on!"
  4. "Women in technology initiatives" aren't really about "equal opportunity," they're about finding another source of talent to fuel an industry. Computer science is dominated by men. So much so, that if the industry is going to have enough "man" power, it's going to need the opposite sex to fuel the workforce. Women building tanks and airplanes in factories during WWII is an analogy that comes to mind.
  5. My mother would have been beside herself at the informality around dining etiquette. We ate roughly as we were served, instead of waiting for everyone to have their plate. Our host, Kyle Lefkoff (of Boulder Ventures), said it was ok mom; in case you're reading this.
The dichotomy between #1 and #2 had me thinking... why? Software isn't physical, nearly all other industries are. As a result, the essence of a product is intangible. Physical goods based industries (e.g. bio/pharma) produce something physical, with physical impact, and that took physical goods to produce. Something gets shipped over borders (customs/tariffs are related to the physicality of the good). Something can be counted. Something can be physically examined. Software on the other-hand is relatively complex, and often its value is simply polymorphic in nature. Software is a relatively new industry, and perhaps we'll see it "over regulated" in the years to come, but I thought the degree to which the "other guys" in the room were dealing w/ regulation to be rather intense.

A final thing that struck me was something everyone in the room had in common, entrepreneurship. No matter what regulatory morass, technical challenge, or combination of the two, lay in front of us, everyone in the room had a disposition to figure out how to succeed despite the circumstances.

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