Is Austin Open for Business?

Tech Panelists Say Smart Regulation is Key

AOL Co-Founder Steve Case paid Austin a visit this week to talk about his book, The Third Wave, and to serve on a dynamic panel at the Long Center with some of Austin’s tech leaders. The top topic? The role of government and regulation in the future of innovation. It’s incredibly refreshing to see tech leaders, with their global perspectives, engaged in this discussion. Not so long ago, it was hard to keep people’s attention when talking about regulation, policy and economic development. Not anymore.

Regulation is reality. Businesses have to understand it and factor it in. You have to recognize that government is a part of the conversation. Government plays an important role.” — Steve Case, AOL Co-Founder, Author of The Third Wave

Steve Case, AOL Co-Founder and Author of The Third Wave, on a panel with Cindy R. WalkerPeach, PhD (Lead Advisor, Austin Technology Incubator), Brett Hurt (CEO and Co-Founder,, Josh Baer (Executive Director, Capital Factory), Tyson Tuttle (President and CEO, Silicon Labs), Dan Graham (Founder and CEO, and Notley Ventures), Natalie Cofield (Founder and CEO, Walker’s Legacy, Founder and Chief Visionary Officer, Urban Co-Lab).

It’s rare to have six tech heavy hitters on a panel all nodding in agreement. Yet they all agreed that government and industry MUST work together. The private sector creates solutions that can be iterated quickly, spurring competition and innovation — all of which benefit consumers. We heard it loud and clear that the role of government should be to promote policies that support the innovation economy with regulations that are flexible, transparent and developed in collaboration with industry.

Tyson Tuttle with Silicon Labs put it simply when he said, “We have to understand how reasonable regulations play a part in encouraging companies to come here. We have to educate our politicians and think bigger.” Panelists urged innovators and policymakers alike to seek out understanding of how regulation affects innovators’ ability to produce what consumers want — customized convenience and faster access to information they can consume and/or share.

We have to understand how reasonable regulations play a part in encouraging companies to come here. We have to educate our politicians and think bigger.” — Tyson Tuttle, President and CEO, Silicon Labs

Speed was cited as a pain point. The slow pace of government and the fast-moving nature of entrepreneurs have caused frustration in our city. It may not be feasible for government to move at the speed of business, but the city can embrace a pro-business environment where companies, entrepreneurs and innovators feel welcome to create, invest and grow jobs.

The government is struggling with the sharing economy. It’s not known for being quick and agile.” — Dan Graham, Founder and CEO, and Notley Ventures

It’s hard for government to keep up. We will have to reinvent ourselves.” — Brett Hurt, CEO and Co-Founder,

Steve Case delivered a jarring assessment about prosperous cities of the past and what it takes for cities to thrive today. He observed: “75 years ago, Detroit was Silicon Valley.” So what changed? His answer: how each city embraced innovation. So what will Austin do?

Is Austin a city that embraces innovation?

In the recent past, there has been some sentiment that City of Austin processes can make it tough to do business here. Based on recent conversations, I’m confident that can begin to change.

During the panel discussion, generally speaking, Cindy Walker Peach with Austin Technology Incubator offered that, “It’s important to engage policy makers and regulators early on.” And that’s good advice. It also got me thinking: What more can we — as a city — do to encourage more constructive dialogue? What more can our City Council and staff do to make doing business in Austin more efficient? How can our city become more effective when it comes to creating solutions to complex issues? How can we decrease the barriers to innovation and spur competition instead?

The answers to these questions aren’t tidy. As Josh Baer wisely warned, “It will get messy before it gets cleaned up.” For certain it takes bold leadership to streamline old processes and create new ways for companies and cities to work together. As Steve Case put it, the days of these silos are over. And Tyson Tuttle is right that we need to think bigger. Smart regulation is the cornerstone of success for the industries, the connectivity and the ideas that propel our economy. I’d like to see Austin emerge as a trailblazer in finding new ways to do new things. Maybe the City of Austin can show the rest of the country how business gets done in a town that gets it. Only time will tell. If nothing else, this week’s panel put a bright light on the important work ahead of us.

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