Ron Conway, Sean Parker Go To Washington (Again)

A new bipartisan think tank with a focus on creating better opportunities for startups and small businesses is launching in Washington, D.C. today with backing from Silicon Valley. Sean Parker, Ron Conway and other well-known tech figures have aligned themselves with several academics and Washington policymakers to form the Economic Innovation Group (EIG).

This is not the first time Silicon Valley has tried to make change in our nation’s capitol. Several tech leaders, including Conway, backed the start of the Silicon Valley-focused lobbying firm a few years back. The hope is that EIG will bring ideas from the tech and investor community together with the federal government to find new solutions to the country’s economic challenges.

Former International Affairs director in the Obama White House Steve Glickman and longtime Republican Senate aide John Lettieri pulled Parker, Conway and a slew of other Silicon Valley VC’s in early to start discussing a bipartisan solution to help some of the less fortunate communities gain better economic options.

While many democratic leaders laud the overall economic recovery from the Great Recession of 2007-2008, the economy isn’t growing as fast as some would like it to, either. Despite the glowing reports from the Obama administration, (the GDP has bounced back from pre-crisis levels and we have the lowest unemployment rate since 2008), real gross domestic product increased by just 2.2 percent in the 4th quarter of 2014, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

“The economy is great for much of the Bay Area, but there are many other parts of the country that are struggling to stay above water,” Conway told TechCrunch.

Glickman, Lettieri and the several academics, investors and policymakers involved in EIG hope to find applicable solutions for those communities throughout the U.S. that are still struggling. Glickman pointed out that one of them includes California’s central valley — which is suffering as much as any region in the state from our current water shortages. Though some reports give this area a better outlook in the near economic future in sectors other than agriculture. One of the first initiatives of EIG will be to map out and index exactly where these communities are and how changes in policy might help.

The establishment of a tech-fueled think tank is on trend with other Silicon Valley startups and leaders making inroads in Washington. Uber, Airbnb, Snapchat and others have started to monitor policy and lobby the federal government in the past few months to influence the law in their favor. Facebook, Apple and Google set up lobbying units within D.C. years ago. Google led the industry pack last year, spending nearly $17 million. That’s a 20 percent increase from the year before.

Of course these are fragmented efforts, meant to support the agendas of individual tech companies within Washington. While EIG supports those efforts and intends to work with those companies on solutions, Lettieri emphasized the need for an assembled group that could reach across party lines.

“Washington needs to facilitate new approaches for driving private investment to entrepreneurs struggling to access capital, grow new businesses, and create high-paying jobs,” said Lettieri. “We know there are policymakers on both sides of the aisle who share this vision, and we intend to leverage our resources to help their ideas break through.”

EIG will hold its first policy event in Washington, D.C. on April 15, 2015, in partnership with The Atlantic.