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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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