Technology, the Future, and the Great Divide – #TPS2012 in Napa

The Napa Technology Policy Summit, 2012

I’ve just returned from this outstanding annual conference, in which C-PET was privileged once again to be a partner. It brought together leading voices from corporate, entrepreneurial, venture and governance communities.

The panel I moderated illustrates this well. Vivek Wadhwa, Washington Post innovation columnist, biz school prof in five locations, and recently appointed resident guru at the NASA-hosted Singularity University, was joined by Kauffman Senior Fellow Paul Kedrosky, Start-up America leader Kathy Warner, and Chief Strategy Officer of well-known start-up Spokeo Emanuel Pleitez. Like all panels at these events so well curated by Natalie Fonseca, there were no PowerPoints or set-piece speeches. Focus was on lively discussion, and Q and A, in which some of the best minds around were fully engaged. Full video will soon be available (we shall let you know when) and each of the panels will bear careful viewing. For highlights, search Twitter for the hashtag #tps2012. And there is useful review at Huffington Post by Bennet Kelley.

My panel was on competitiveness, and an agenda for the incoming administration. There was no dull unanimity – real divergence over the value of engaging Washington, and whether dollars were required to get anyone’s attention. But there were common themes. Most interesting, perhaps, among them, was that priorities did not require extra spending. Key concerns and proposals:

  • Refocus for the Small Business Administration on young businesses. Most small businesses stay small. The focus should be start-ups – but will require a fresh culture in the renamed Young Business Administration.
  • A much firmer focus on the move from federally-funded university research universities to start-up applications.
  • Visa reform! Vivek Wadhwa proposed an internet-based campaign that would build on the success of the anti-SOPA effort. Others were less sanguine of such an approach. But the whole conference responded vocally to the urgency of visas.
  • More engagement by companies with members in the business agenda, and the businesses in their districts.

And from my intro and wrap-up comments:

  • The core issues at stake are questions of Washington’s “corporate culture” versus that of the entrepreneurial community signified by Silicon Valley; they are not (as the panel agreed) basically funding issues.
  • The major tech companies have not taken responsibility for pressing on Washington a long-term agenda, preferring to play lobbying defense in the context of the electoral cycle of the House.
  • I shared some of my own suggestions of kick-starter shifts, all cost-neutral, which include moving Camp David to Menlo Park (to bring the White House firmly into connection with the entrepreneurial culture of the Valley – and, from my view, as a first step in the relocation of the federal government to the west coast); abolishing academic tenure (a shake-up that will help younger scholars, inter-disciplinary and translational research, and which Congress could effect in an appropriations rider – adding a sentence to funding bills); and shifting some current federal R and D spending to a new agency based in the Valley and run by entrepreneurs.

Broader reflections from three days of conversation.

  • These events are greatly valued by those who participate, and key individuals had taken trouble to take part, many for the whole period of the conference. Aside from those already mentioned, panelists included the president of TechNet; the Deputy Attorney-General for California; writers such as Andrew Keen and Declan McCullagh (who is also, by the way, a terrific panel moderator); lawyer Christina Gagnier; VC and former DARPA and Intel leader David Tennenhouse . . .a considerable list of players in the tech and policy scenes.
  • At the same time, these events have something of the feel of an amalgam rather than a compound; an inter-disciplinary event in which Valley-type people and DC-type people mix on generally friendly terms before returning to their respective habitats. Their fusion into a compound is what is desired.

Last fall, I hosted – again in collaboration with the Tech Policy Summit group – a panel in Menlo Park that brought together VCs and tech thought leaders to discuss the theme that I have called “bridging the Continental Divide.” It’s our C-PET intention to press ahead with this conversation in the months to come. Watch this space for details!

2 thoughts on “Technology, the Future, and the Great Divide – #TPS2012 in Napa

  1. Pingback: 5 stories that make me worry about whether the future has jobs |

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