Ask not what government can do for startups…

There’s an interesting debate happening at Roundtable about entrepreneurship and public policy that includes some of my favourite people in the tech world such as Esther Dyson and Anil Dash. I generally come down on the side of public policy being able to help startups and create jobs, but only if it does things sensibly. However, Anil Dash outlines the prevailing attitude nicely:

From what I’ve seen (and I readily concede that this is anecdote, not data), founders often see policy as irrelevant, inherently evil, or hopelessly unresponsive. Given that reality, getting founders to substantively engage in policy discussions will be fruitless until that reality changes. That issue seems bigger to me than all of these individual policy concerns combined.

I’m currently more interested in the other side of the coin — not what government can do to help startups but whether startups can help government. I’ve written a piece for Ethos Magazine called ‘Aim big, start small’ that argues that if Government wants to save money and achieve better social results then they’re better off working with new startups who can look at the problem from a different angle:

Unless things change, the public sector is going to find it hard to work with the most innovative of startups and miss out on the potentially game-changing efficiencies that their way of solving problems might offer.

I imagine that in years to come, we won’t think of ‘public sector’ as just meaning you work for the civil service, a school or the NHS — we’ll take it to include tens of thousands of other organisations small and large whose aim is to solve social problems. This is going to raise all kinds of questions: should the public sector buy companies for example? In some cases I think that would make a lot of sense and create huge savings. We’d also need to debate whether this would change our expectations of pay, rewards and profits. But overall, my feeling is that our best bet for creating better social and economic outcomes is to look for ways to get more startups working with the public sector to find better ways of doing things.