GE, Gilt Groupe, Others Want to Advise NY Lawmakers on Tech Policies

An all-too-familiar refrain rings among certain politicians, who say they are not scientists or that they are neophytes when it comes to technology. The problem is the economy and future job growth are becoming inexorably tied to innovation—so if politicos don’t “get” tech, we may all be collectively screwed.

Last week, business advocacy organization the Partnership for New York City introduced the Partnership Innovation Council, loaded with stakeholders from the local tech scene. Co-chairing this council are Beth Comstock, vice chair of General Electric (NYSE: GE), and Kevin Ryan, chairman of such companies as Gilt, MongoDB, and Business Insider. The new group’s intent is to reach out to elected officials and policymakers in the city and state, and chime in on proposed or existing regulations that might affect tech companies.

“We’re taking action to address some of the regulatory barriers that we’ve been hearing about consistently in this space,” Mike Simas, executive vice president of the Partnership for New York City, who will handle the day-to-day administration of the new council.

It is no secret that New York has been riding the latest resurgence of startups and established tech companies such as Yahoo (NASDAQ: YHOO), Google (sorry—Alphabet) (NASDAQ: GOOG), and Facebook (NASDAQ: FB) that set up shop here. New York, like other cities, has been a battleground for courtroom drama between regulators and companies such Airbnb and Uber, whose business models do not perfectly fit with local laws. The Partnership Innovation Council wants to abate such friction and foster collaboration rather than confrontation between new economy businesses and government.

Ryan says though New York has done well, so far, as a home for tech, some companies have voiced concerns about the regulatory environment here and looked to other markets. “If they set up headquarters somewhere else, it means those thousands of jobs will be there when they’d rather be in New York,” he says. “They need to be able to do business here.”

Beth Comstock, vice chair of General Electric, and co-chair of the Partnership Innovation Council.

Beth Comstock, vice chair of General Electric, and co-chair of the Partnership Innovation Council.

Comstock says, via email, that General Electric sees potential for innovation driven by technology in New York across many industries—but nurturing that potential requires communication from all sides.

“Finance, healthcare, retail, and entertainment are turning to established technology players as well as startups to create new business models and ecosystems,” she says. “Our goal is to make sure New York, and other cities, have the right mix of government, startups, and established businesses working together to solve big problems and fuel innovation.”

In addition to recruiting a host of business leaders, the council also put together a legal advisory group drawn from area law firms to look at issues that arise and structure possible solutions to propose to legislators, Simas says.

Uber and Airbnb these days may have considerable resources to address their legal matters, but tiny tech companies likely do not have a war chest they can dip into. “I’m worried about the 10-person or 20-person startup that can’t afford to have lobbyists,” Ryan says.

A variety of policy issues are starting to surface that could hamper the innovation scene, he says. Food safety, for instance, is vital to the well-being of the populace, but the rules can be highly restrictive. “Can you cook a meal in your home, and then deliver that to me five blocks away and I pay you $20 for that?” Ryan asks. “That’s a grey area.”

It is one thing if someone privately makes dinner, he says, yet things get murky if the meal becomes part of a business transaction. “There are startups in many parts of the country that are starting to do that,” Ryan says.

Gobble, Cozymeal, Feastly, and Foodie Shares all come to mind in this space. Simas says such platforms now face taxation in ways they cannot deal with. “Those types of issues are coming to our attention,” he says.

The policing of drones, Ryan says, is another area that could see regulators take … Next Page »

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