The Boston tech and venture capital ecosystem is on the verge of disruption, and we will have President-elect Donald J. Trump to thank.
Voters elected Trump this week on his promise to upend the "status quo" of the United States, even while his policy positions have repeatedly changed over time without ever providing too many specifics. But we do know the basics: he wants to overturn international trade agreements, ban Muslims from entering the U.S., boost fossil fuels, impose high taxes on all imported goods — and that's only the tip of the Trump policy iceberg, with full implications covered by a sea of obscurity.
Whatever change comes about, it will likely be radical, at least in comparison to the policies of outgoing President Barack Obama. So we asked members of Boston's tech and VC ecosystem what they think will happen when Trump takes the Oval Office in January, what they hope to see from him and what the tech community should do in the face of any adversity.
Impact on venture capital markets
Eric Paley, managing partner at Founder Collective, told BostInno this morning that because of the uncertainty of Trump's specific plans, it will likely cause the capital markets to freeze up as a result. (Markets reacted favorably Wednesday, with investors applauding an apparent smooth transition of power.)
But if there is any further disruption in the capital markets, that in turn, could extend to venture capital, "even all the way to seed stage investing," Paley said. It could also put a pause on mergers and acquisitions, along with initial public offerings.
"Anyone starting to raise capital today should take a pause," Paley said. "I don't think overnight it’ll stop but it can be a very hard time because of how nervous markets are."
That means entrepreneurs looking to raise VC money in the coming months may have to wait it out, Paley said, and be conservative with cash as a result. Bottom line? "Preserve cash and find a way to survive."
The need for more diversity programs
While Trump may say otherwise, his statements and policy positions have repeatedly alienated people of color, LGBT people, women, immigrants and Muslims — so much so that many supporters have appropriated the term "deplorables" for themselves after Hillary Clinton used it to describe those of Trump's camp who are racist, sexist, homophobic or xenophobic.
"It's time to roll up our sleeves, focus on the positive, and continue to make change."
This, in turn, has created concerns about how the U.S. can create a support system for the country's diverse population. As it pertains to the tech world, it means helping those from underrepresented communities in terms of employment, funding and more.
Melissa James, president of The Tech Connection, said Trump's victory highlights the need for programs like hers "that support the growth of diversity candidates."
"There is no greater time than now that we need more leaders who can inspire inclusive change and think strategically about how we move together as a community," she said. I urge employers to have open conversations about the impact of today in their workplaces. The impact of today cannot be ignored."
"We need to take action to create the workforce solutions we know the tech community needs. I am confident that our CEOs see this, feel concerned about this, and will not stand on the sidelines on this issue," she added. "We are committed to ensuring diversity candidates are supported in the tech ecosystem and so are the employers who work with us."
Rachel Murray, co-founder of She Geeks Out, said it will also be important to continue paving the way for women in tech.
"While 2016 has seen women's issues in the workplace highlighted in the media in a way it never has before, last night has proven yet again that we have a hell of a lot of work to do," Murray said. "It's time to roll up our sleeves, focus on the positive, and continue to make change, however big or small."
Not moving to Canada, but leaving social media
Drizly founder Nick Rellas had a personal reaction that caused some soul-searching about his own use of social media. He also echoed Paley's concerns about a cooling down in the tech economy.
"I believe social media played a huge role in nurturing and spreading hate, lies, and incomplete information."
"It's a sad day knowing that what he represents is how the country feels, but it's a hard truth a lot of us have to look at — this is how a lot of people feel," he said. "What's to be seen is how much of that rhetoric is just that, rhetoric, and how much is real. For tech, it could very well accelerate a cooling down we've all seen this year, if the macro picture sinks."
On Twitter, Tuesday night, Rellas vowed to quit the service.
"I believe social media played a huge role in nurturing and spreading hate, lies, and incomplete information," he told BostInno later. "No steps have been taking to prevent any of this, and it's helped lead to the divisive political paradigm we're living in. I don't want to be a part of places like that. I don't have a Facebook page, and I wont be using Twitter anymore."
"Trump hasn't really released many policy details so, we don't know how much of what he said on the campaign trail was grandstanding and what was real. It's unclear what he will do so, I don't want to make any predictions," said Talla founder Rob May, who notably backed Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson ahead of the election.
"I think people vastly overstate the importance and influence of the President, on economic results, so I wasn't going to be worried no matter who won," he said.
Rapid7 CEO Corey Thomas was one of few to strike an optimistic note — one that especially focused on his company's industry, cybersecurity.
"Our hope is that President-elect Trump will act quickly to bridge divides and bring stability to markets," Thomas told us in a statement. "It’s hard to predict what specific technology-related policies will emerge from a Trump presidency, but he has repeatedly acknowledged the need for better cybersecurity."
"He has repeatedly acknowledged the need for better cybersecurity."
"We believe that in our increasingly digital world, the need for cybersecurity will only become more critical in order to protect US citizens, businesses, and the economy," he added. "We stand ready to share our perspective and expertise to help our country move forward, and look to others in the security and technology communities to do likewise. We encourage the Trump administration to pursue policies that promote innovation and strengthen our communities and the cybersecurity ecosystem.”
An opportunity to help the disenfranchised
Rudina Seseri, a founder and managing partner at Glasswing Ventures, pointed to the Trump's base of supporters who feel disenfranchised as a new opportunity for tech companies.
"The election results were surprising to many people and an indication that there are large parts of the U.S. population that feel disenfranchised," she said. "To that end, innovation and technology create new employment opportunities, industries and markets, and can serve as uniting drivers for the success of the country."
Seseri also struck an optimistic note on the future of the tech industry.
"For those who are uncertain about the impact the transfer of power may have on broader markets and innovation, my view is that startups that were transformational yesterday, remain transformational today," she added. "Despite any uncertainties that may follow, the fundamental power of transformative technologies and the value they create remain strong."
Global trade remains a priority
"We welcome the talent, ideas and perspective that foreign innovators bring with them."
Whatever Trump's plans are, international trade remains an important priority for the Massachusetts technology and innovation community, said Tom Hopcroft of MassTLC. He said other important issues include intellectual property reform, the need for skilled immigrants, domestic and cross-border data security and privacy and autonomous vehicles.
“As the state’s largest tech community, MassTLC believes that global trade is good, and we welcome the talent, ideas and perspective that foreign innovators bring with them when they come here; we respect the value of intellectual property and believe stronger protections help spur innovation; we recognize the need to be vigilant in securing information-based trade while also being cognizant of the need to protect consumer privacy," he said. This community is used to solving big problems, and I am confident that we will continue to find ways to push the bounds of innovation.”
Additional reporting by BostInno Staff Writer Olivia Vanni.
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