Thursday, April 30, 2009

Has Washington Replaced NYC as the Power Center for Startups?

For the sake of the future of the US economy, I hope this is only because of that massive sucking vacuum of economic resources that is economically inefficient clean tech - from Jeff Busang, a partner at a VC firm writing at peHUB:

In truth, it makes me very nervous that we are entering an era where public opinion and public officials are against what has made this country so great and unique in the world - the aggressive pursuit of open markets, free trade and a strong distate for regulation and government intervention in business affairs. Governments have never been good at picking winners and losers in the free market (see: Japan, collapse of). But, the reality is that this administration’s ambitions are breathtaking and transformative. Business leaders have never had a stronger reason to care more about following what’s going on in the halls of Washington.

One of our portfolio company CEOs is amazing at spending all his time running around with clients and chasing new business. Lately, we find ourselves coaching him to spend more time in Washington DC. Last night, I was at a dinner with the founder of one of the most promising cleantech companies in the country and he observed that in 2008, he visited China and NYC ten times each. In 2009, he has already been to Washington DC ten times. It’s a sign of the new reality, like it or not.

Don't get me wrong on clean tech - market innovation has always meant more efficient less polluting technologies, but I sincerely hope that the primary determinant for getting there isn't based on getting money from the US government.

There's good reason to think that this is ridiculously bad for clean tech itself if true - as Bussang notes, governments are notoriously bad for picking winners and losers. Substituting firms with political connections over substance means a protracted battle of those who don't get government assistance with essentially zombies who are now in a position to underprice them because of those subsidies.

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