Heard on the Hill

Polis Pushes Congress to Support Risk-Takers

Colorado Democrat is visiting four startups in his district, holding roundtable for Startup Day

For last year’s Startup Day, Colorado Rep. Jared Polis visited a company that makes 100 percent American-made watches. (Courtesy Polis’ office)

Members of Congress are marking Startup Day Across America on Tuesday to support and promote startups in their districts, and Rep. Jared Polis has a busy schedule. 

The Colorado Democrat, who is vacating his seat to run for governor, was an internet entrepreneur and venture capitalist before entering Congress, and he’s now committed to supporting those with aspirations similar to his.

In his Boulder-based 2nd District, he has visits planned to Stuffn’ Mallows, a marshmallow and s’mores company; Food Corridor, the first online marketplace for food businesses to connect with available commercial kitchen space; Herbal Heart Apothecary, a women-owned skin care company that infuses herbs they grow themselves in their products; and Samples World Bistro, an internationally focused lunch and dinner spot.

While Polis’ pre-congressional background is in tech (he was a co-founder of BlueMountain.com, an online greeting card company, and founded ProFlowers.com, an online florist), he said he tries to highlight nontech startups “to show the startup world isn’t just about software and e-commerce.”

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He also is hosting a roundtable discussion Tuesday with panelists from four other local startups.

“At each startup, we try to learn: ‘What do you do? Are there any barriers that you’re facing from policy? What are you biggest challenges?’” Polis said.

“Startups are a very important engine of economic growth, and another important thing to note is that most startups don’t work out. If there are 10 startups, we hope that one or two of them are tomorrow’s great company,” he said. “That’s the nature of the risk-taking that entrepreneurs are engaged in when they start a new company. We, as policymakers, should be supportive of risk-taking because that’s what leads to great job creation and success.”

For last year’s Startup Day, Polis checked out a 3D printer with then-Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker. (Courtesy Polis’ office)
For last year’s Startup Day, Polis checked out a 3D printer with then-Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker. (Courtesy Polis’ office)

Five years ago, Polis teamed up with California Republican Rep. Darrell Issa, a successful car-alarm manufacturer before coming to Congress, to talk about getting colleagues on board with Startup Day.

“We were talking about how many members of Congress just don’t have experience or awareness about startups and entrepreneurial activity because they come from different backgrounds,” he said. “Both Darrell and I are entrepreneurs and we said, ‘Let’s find a way to connect members of Congress with startups in their communities.”

About 80 lawmakers from both sides of the aisle and both chambers are scheduled to participate Tuesday in events in their districts.

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Both of Polis’ and Issa’s districts have a large tech industry, but they don’t want it to stop there.

“[There’s] this misconception that somehow startups only occur in places like Silicon Valley, Boulder, or New York,” Polis said. “In reality, there’s people with ideas that are transforming them into reality in every congressional district in this country and every ZIP code in this country.”

Polis and Issa help their colleagues find at least one startup to visit on Startup Day, and that choice is often related to an issue that the member is working on.

“Members can kind of choose how they want to do this, but the important part is that tomorrow’s successful business with thousands of employees is today’s garage startup,” Polis said. “We want members of Congress to be aware of how early-stage companies can grow — how they raise capital, issues around employment and resources, barriers to their growth, all those real-life issues that entrepreneurs and small companies face.”

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