Innovation Policy Day at SXSW Highlights the Need for Cooperation and Collaboration

By HOJUN CHOI
Reporter with Silicon Hills News

SXSW goers listened to experts and leaders from the tech industry discuss the intersections between new innovations and government policy during Innovation Policy Day on Tuesday.

The event, which featured four different panels, was organized by the Consumer Technology Association, which provides its members market research, education and networking opportunities within the consumer technology industry. This was the third year that the trade association held the event during SXSW Interactive.

“We’re starting to see that more people are starting to understand what types of roadblocks and challenges in the policy front might impact the products and services that they may use,” said Laura Hubbard, who serves as the association’s senior manager.

Most of the guest speaker panels focused on issues surrounding specific industries such as the sharing economy, Internet of Things and drone technology.

Nick Grossman from venture capital firm Union Square Ventures, who moderated the sharing economy panel, said consumers, entrepreneurs and regulators are at an important intersection that requires cooperation as well as understanding.

“We’re at this moment where we can look back several years worth of conflict and events, so we can look forward and think about how we want to progress from here,” Grossman said.

New York University business professor Arun Sundararajan, one of the panel’s guest speakers, said discussion around the sharing economy should be careful to consider not only the consumers who are enjoying new services, but also the laborers who are affected by new innovations.

“We have these new innovations, but we have to think about how much of the spoils of innovation the workers who are providing that innovation are going to see,” Sundararajan said.

Michael Hayes, who manages government affairs for the Consumer Technology Association, told Silicon Hills News that federal, state and local government should not “jump the gun” on putting regulations on services such as AirBnB, Lyft and Uber.

“If governments jump the gun with regulations in the beginning, they cut off the ability of people being able find out how these sharing platforms interact with their community,” Hayes said.

Hayes said that Austin -like many other cities around the world, is still coping with the challenges of new innovations disrupting the way certain industries have been operating for decades. The “wild and creative” culture of the local community, he said, could bring the different stakeholders together to make the city a space in which the new sharing economy can continue to grow.

“Ultimately, I think people in Austin are going to see that the sharing economy offers them all sorts of new opportunities to be participants in a new platform,” Hayes said. “I think the consumers, entrepreneurs and the local government will find a way to work together.”

In addition to panels that looked at the privacy and security issues behind the Internet of Things industry and drone technology, the all-day event also featured a panel titled, “Making Our Tech Look More Like Our Country”, which explored the lack of diversity in the tech industry.

Adrissha Wimberly, a senior advisor at the Mayor’s Office of Tech and Innovation in New York, said participating and organizing inclusive discussions around the subject of diversity is a critical part of changing the economic ecosystem.

“We have to make sure that we’re inviting an open dialogue that is not limited to just a small segmented group of leaders,” Wimberly told Silicon Hills News. “We have to bring in the community to voice what needs to change at the street-level.”

Wimberly, one of the three women who spoke at the diversity panel, said local governments can also influence change through making sure that companies that are winning bids for government projects are those that are mindful of how inclusive their organizations are.

Lisa Lee, diversity program manager at Pandora, also spoke on the diversity panel, and said that rather than “simply pouring” money into recruiting efforts, companies should “take a step back” and explore the factors that have led to a lack of diversity at the workplace.

“When people don’t have a willingness to first and foremost listen and understand the experience of being a persons of color or a woman in the tech industry, their solutions are not as comprehensive and not as holistic,” Lee said.

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