Congress Can Learn From Startups
Congressman Jared Polis sheds some light on how government can reflect entrepreneurial efforts, grow the economy and promote ingenuity
Ingenuity can grow anywhere.
A few years ago, Jack desperately wanted the Lego Star Wars Death Star. His father said he could get it, but only if he earned and saved for it. Motivated and undeterred, Jack started a lemonade stand, which he quickly developed into a kit for other young kids to start stands, too.
It was about a year after he started his first venture when I met him, and he exemplified the old saying, "Nobody has a monopoly on good ideas." After all, Jack was only nine, and he was already growing his idea into a gainful business.
In many ways, I saw my younger self in Jack – both Star Wars fans, both entrepreneurs, both starting young. (Although, Jack was eight; I was 16, but who is counting?) Most notably, in Jack, I saw a spirit that I've always strived for – he was developing his startup while also lifting up other entrepreneurs.
That spirit is emblematic of so many other entrepreneurs in Colorado, and it explains why our economy is growing, paving the way nationally in industries such as marijuana and hemp, solar and wind energy, technology, brewing and so much more.
When startups flourish, so do local communities. On average, startups younger than one year old create 2 million jobs per year nationwide.
Congress could learn a lot from startups. Entrepreneurial efforts effectively grow the economy, thinking and operating outside the box. Knowing that, I founded the bipartisan Startup Day Across America, as the co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Innovation and Entrepreneurship. It's a day for startups to share their wisdom with members of Congress – Democrats and Republicans – and to begin discussions about what the federal government can do to help promote ingenuity, whether through cutting red tape or investing in community programs.
Boy, have they done so. The startup community in Colorado has helped me develop several policy ideas.
Most recently, we have been able to help employee-owned businesses, like New Belgium Brewery and Namaste Solar – both in my district. We directed the Small Business Administration (SBA) to fund outreach, education and technical assistance training on the SBA 7 (a)(15) loan guarantee program, which provides financing for employee-owned small businesses. We got the legislation over the finish line since both Republicans and Democrats embrace the idea of employee-owned businesses because the business model leads to lower turnover, high wages and more positive morale.
In my earlier years of Congress, we were able to adopt the principles behind the Women and Workforce Investment for Nontraditional (WIN) Jobs Act in the bipartisan Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). Specifically, we expanded a grant program to increase women's access to high-wage, high-growth, non-traditional occupations – like computer science.
We have also moved legislation that helps level the playing field for startups. I introduced the bipartisan, bicameral KOMBUCHA bill that would eliminate federal alcohol taxes on kombucha, and I sponsored the Small BREW Act, which would reduce the excise tax on U.S. brewers who produce less than 6 million barrels of beer a year.
Six years after kicking off Startup Day Across America, the initiative has grown so much that it's now Startup WEEK Across America, with nearly 100 members of Congress participating each year from both sides of the aisle. Earlier this month, I wrapped up my final Startup Day/Week celebration as a Congressman, and I did so, appropriately, with Jack, who now helps other young entrepreneurs in the marketplace.
It's entrepreneurs like Jack who help grow our economy, and motivate Congress to come together to pass laws that promote ingenuity.
Jared Polis is an independent leader who uses his private and public sector background to find pragmatic solutions to the challenges of facing Colorado and the nation. First elected to represent Colorado's Second Congressional District in 2008, Polis serves on the powerful Committee on Rules, the Committee on Education and the Workforce and the Committee on Ethics. Polis is the democratic candidate for the governor of Colorado. He faces Republican Walker Stapleton in the statewide election November 6.