In Partnership with SSTI, October 2017

In late September, Senators Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.) along with Senators Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) re-introduced the Startup Act to grow innovation and foster economic growth nationally.  This month, Catalyst is partnering with SSTI – a national, nonprofit that advances science, technology, innovation, and entrepreneurship –  to share more about this legislation, its potential impact on Illinois, our collaborative advocacy efforts, and how you can lend your support.

What is the Startup Act?

The Startup Act (S.1877) is a bipartisan effort to boost innovation across the nation and encourage the creation and growth of new business. This includes expanding and modernizing a critical Economic Development Administration (EDA) program designed to spur regional innovation, accelerating the commercialization of university research that can lead to new ventures, and creating new visas for highly-educated individuals and entrepreneurs so they can remain in the U.S. legally and contribute to our economy.

The Startup Act would increase funding for the EDA’s Regional Innovation Strategies (RIS) program, which provides cluster-focused programs and early-stage seed capital funds that strengthen ecosystems in which entrepreneurs can translate research and technologies into new businesses and jobs.  The RIS program would be extended through FY 2024, and would be authorized for increased funding of $100 million, a significant improvement above the current $17 million funding level. The Startup Act also adjusts the focus of RIS, placing greater emphasis on innovation outcomes, rather than process, by allowing project timelines to increase to five years. 

A new commercialization grant program would support the transformation of federal R&D into new products and businesses, while also extending funding opportunities to higher education institutions and venture development organizations.  To promote American competitiveness, the Startup Act also would provide visas for immigrants with advanced STEM degrees and codify the International Entrepreneur Rule.

Why introduce this legislation now?

Once an international leader in innovation and entrepreneurship, the U.S. has lost ground to many of its peers internationally and must to take steps to improve its competitiveness in these areas.  

“New business formation and the rate of entrepreneurship have reached historic lows… Simply put, America is falling behind and losing talent and jobs to countries overseas. Congress must work to reverse these trends and support policies that allow better opportunities for someone to take an idea, bring it to market, and in the process of pursuing that success, create jobs for other Americans.” – Sen. Moran (R-Kan.)

“For years, we have pushed in Congress for commonsense legislation to encourage entrepreneurship and help startup companies grow and thrive.  This bipartisan bill seeks to attract and retain the talented innovators and entrepreneurs that will help our country and Virginia promote capital investment and achieve economic growth.” – Sen. Warner (D-Va.)

“The Startup Act will make it easier for entrepreneurs to start and grow their businesses, resulting in more good-paying American jobs. The bill will also increase U.S. competitiveness by ensuring that we have the workforce we need in high-demand STEM fields, which will pave the way for new innovations and stronger economic growth.” – Sen. Blunt (R-Mo.)

How would the Startup Act affect immigration?

First, the Startup Act codifies the International Entrepreneur Rule (IER).  Currently, no specific visa exists for foreign-born entrepreneurs, leaving them with an unclear and precarious path to legal residency in the U.S.  Often called the Startup Visa, the IER allows immigrant founders to remain in the country to grow their business — provided that business meets certain criteria.  Providing a clear path to legal residency reduces uncertainty and allows these foreign-born entrepreneurs to focus on their venture, creating economic opportunity here in the U.S.  

Source: National Venture Capital Association

The Startup Act also makes it easier for highly-skilled, immigrant STEM workers to gain legal residence in the U.S.  Adding these skilled workers to the economy is shown to increase employment for U.S. natives, while also helping U.S. employers find the talent they need.

How would the Startup Act boost innovation in Illinois?

The Regional Innovation Strategies (RIS) program has already provided vital funding to Illinois initiatives mHUB and UI LABS, boosting innovation in advanced manufacturing and urban infrastructure in the state.  Strengthening the RIS program would provide increased access to funding for innovation and entrepreneurship centers in the state.  The Startup Act’s commercialization grant program would increase the economic impact of R&D conducted across the state — especially from the nearly $3.5 billion in academic and federal R&D conducted annually in Illinois.  

On the immigration side, the International Entrepreneur Rule would promote economic growth and job creation through entrepreneurship.  By increasing the number of highly-skilled STEM workers eligible for residency in the U.S., the Startup Act would give Illinois employers increased access to talent, while also helping the state retain international students studying at in-state universities.

How can readers support the Startup Act?

Interested individuals and organizations can help by educating their congressional delegation about the positive impacts of these policy changes and asking them to cosponsor the bill. SSTI is coordinating outreach and is happy to help with suggested contacts and language for these requests. Get involved by contacting SSTI at 614-901- 1690 or [email protected]. Other organizations actively supporting the bill include the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, National Venture Capital Association (NVCA) and Engine.



Watch and Learn:

The 16th Annual Chicago Innovation Awards

Join 1500 people as Chicago’s innovation community comes together to shine a bright light on the creative spirit of Chicago by focusing attention on the most innovative new products and services introduced in the region. The winners each year are innovations that uniquely fill unmet needs, spark a competitive response in the marketplace, exceed market expectations, achieve financial success, and improve people’s lives.

Most importantly, the Chicago Innovation Awards remind us that innovation is thriving in the Chicago region. Celebrate Chicago innovation and RSVP here.

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