The signature event of the Startup Nations Summit in Tallinn is the Policy Hack. Why is that and what's in it for startups and governments?
The aim of GEN is to make it easier for anyone, anywhere to start and scale a business. The Estonian Presidency of the Council of the EU shares this mission of unleashing ideas and taking the entrepreneurial agenda of the EU forward, with help from the global policymaking community.
However, it is not only entrepreneurial ideas that we are looking to unleash, is it? The policy ideas that are designed to make starting and scaling a business easier also need a catalyst. This is what the Policy Hack is designed to do.
Eamonn Carey is the former managing director of Techstars Accelerator, and has many years of experience in helping governments and startups empower each other. Eamonn is one of the five mentors of the Policy Hack teams. The role of the SNS Policy Hack mentors is to share expertise, ask critical questions, and eventually highlight the ideas that are more likely to make a real difference.
What are the biggest challenges in startup-government cooperation in your opinion?
I think an understanding gap exists on both sides of this equation. Startups frequently do not comprehend how to engage with government in a meaningful way, and governments sometimes lack a context or framework within which to engage with startups in a way that's mutually beneficial. This is starting to change, but there is still an attitude amongst startuppers that government is frequently a monolithic obstacle that moves at a glacial pace. On the other hand, some might believe that startups freewheel and mess around in ways that are unpredictable and difficult to deal with. A lot of governments are improving in this regard with regulatory sandboxes and more robust engagement platforms that allow regulators and other people who are interested to talk to startups. I think the biggest issues are communication and understanding what motivates the other parties.
How has ’policy hacking’ changed this dialogue?
I think the more that we can foster conversations between startups and relevant government agencies and departments, the better the outcomes will be all around. Regulatory sandboxes seem to have worked well for the FCA in the UK. In cohort one of the sandbox, 24 firms were accepted out of 69 applications and 18 firms had testing plans approved last year.
What myths or misunderstandings do governments usually have about startups and how to dispel them?
That startups are reckless and only interested in raising/generating as much money as possible in as short a time as possible - without any regard for the consequences. That startups are too small and that it is too early to talk and engage with them, as the failure rate is so high. That there is widespread disdain for regulatory regimes within startups. In all three cases, I think increased communication on both sides is needed. Startups need to move quickly, and governments need to understand that they may need to be flexible and willing to experiment if they're going to really engage with early and mid-stage companies. Likewise, a greater focus on outreach and engagement with the startup community is needed to help people understand how they can connect with relevant stakeholders and opportunities within governments.
If you could give only one pro tip to startups wishing to disrupt a very regulated sector, what would it be?
Talk to people - do whatever you can to get connected with the relevant people in the industry and find out the challenges they've faced in the sector previously. Start a conversation early with the regulators to understand their current thinking and any plans they have to engage with startups who are looking at this market. Help people understand that you want to engage, but also help people understand your imperatives from a timing, funding and growth perspective.
What are your expectations as to what comes out of the Startup Nations Summit this year?
I'd hope that we'll find some interesting opportunities for governments to get more engaged with the startup community in a way that's mutually beneficial.