Startups pride themselves on being at the forefront of most every sector, from healthcare to travel. Their sense of the new and the next translates into almost every aspect of their businesses. However, many startups have not recognized the need to interact with government - to build and leverage relationships with elected officials and regulators who implement laws impacting the “new economy.” Startups play offense rather than defense when dealing with an institution that cannot be disrupted.  

Disruptors and innovators may need nothing more than someone to make an introduction to power players in government. When these influential individuals are aware of the businesses in their constituencies, they become better informed and can consider the interests of these companies with increased immediacy and insight. It also provides elected officials with stories of entrepreneurial successes to use in the media and in public debates in the House and Senate. Simply put, an introduction can provide a win-win. 


Another challenge startups face is how those unfamiliar with their technologies view them. Although many are considered tech companies because they utilize apps and engage in e-commerce, they also fall into other highly regulated categories such as financial services or healthcare. The advent of disruptive ways of saving for retirement or monitoring personal health means an onslaught of new legislation and bureaucratic regulations. This simply adds to the barriers to entry that exist because of outdated laws and regulations already on the books. 

Thankfully, there are partners at the federal level who want to help startups venture into unchartered—or unregulated—waters. These forward-thinking officials see the value the disruptive/collaborative/sharing economy brings to economic vitality across the U.S. – regardless of geography.

Far removed from the traditional innovation hubs on the coasts, Sen. Deb FischerDebra (Deb) Strobel FischerBiden officials pledge to confront cybersecurity challenges head-on Lawmakers introduce bill allowing higher ethanol blend in gasoline after ruling Lobbying world MORE (R-Neb.) has taken keen interest in the quickly growing tech and startup scene in Nebraska.

As more startups cropped up in her home state, Fischer realized new technology is being developed despite outdated rules and regulations. She also said, “Washington is way behind, regulating rapidly growing industries like health IT with old rules that predate the VCR.”

Part of a startup's recipe for success must include filling the knowledge gap in Congress and the network of regulatory agencies. This means educating elected officials and bureaucrats who are unfamiliar with the fundamentals of the Internet and how it works, much less social media and other technologies.

This also enables lawmakers and government agencies to help promote and protect a business’ interests, enhancing growth.

Fischer is among four senators, including tech-savvy Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), who authored a resolution calling for a strategy to develop the Internet of Things (IoT). Taking a step in closing a technological knowledge gap.

In this instance, smart senators realized IoT, full of startups and potential, needs to be capitalized upon with the government supporting its growth. The IoT community still has many concerns in Washington requiring it to foster Capitol relationships, but having partners like Fischer and Booker provides an advantage when new legislation or regulations are proposed. 

However, this IoT example is rare. In the beginning, Apple, Google, Facebook, and Uber, learned the hard way about not using government relations professionals and lobbyists to aid in their introductions and advocacy to Capitol Hill and government regulators. If startups do not employ similar strategies, they will be swept up by the agenda of the tech giants with little-to-no say.  

Startups and disruptors need to introduce themselves to Washington, but they need help, more often than not. And once they return home, it helps to have a set of eyes and ears back on the Hill.

Tech leaders, the startup community, and entrepreneurs are deploying innovations that make our lives easier and more connected. Now, it falls on these same people and their partners to do more to educate elected leaders, build relationships, and advocate for their industry because—unfortunately—there’s no app for that.

Placek is a government relations professional in Washington, DC with an interest in the startup community.