Entrepreneurs love disruptions. A shake-up in the status quo is when the most inviting opportunities occur. And we can all agree that last week’s election result is shaking up Washington, D.C.
Our region’s innovation community has a chance to grow under the new administration — if we know where to look.
Very few Americans know exactly what to expect after Inauguration Day, but we can infer from president-elect Donald Trump’s campaign and Republican policy goals expressed in the last Congress some important data points — and use them to capitalize on changes ahead.
I’m already on record touting personalized medicine as a specific business opportunity for our region. Now, big changes are promised in the federal government’s role in health care delivery, and the dynamics of health insurance and services could also fundamentally change.
Watch for these changes to drive two big innovation trends. There will be a market to provide more efficient health care to people with less money and at the other end of that spectrum, a growing demand for high value-added health care to those who can afford it. Both trends could be a boom for personalized health care.
Cybersecurity is another of our strengths and this election certainly clarified why cybersecurity matters.
The greater Washington region would benefit from a renewed federal focus on innovation. The Obama administration is tightly integrated in Silicon Valley as a conduit for innovation, with many of the most publicized efforts including government tech hubs called DIUx, 18F and others reflecting this integration. The incoming administration does not have the same level of existing interconnectedness with Silicon Valley, creating an opportunity for a “reset” of the perceived role of our region in providing technology innovation.
Federal spending on national security is also expected to increase, driving opportunities for our region’s federal contracting businesses — particularly the most innovative. Innovation for national security will continue to be important because our adversaries are not standing still, and many national security challenges require small and creative teams in areas such as cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, autonomy and space exploration.
In the past, increased demand for talent in the national security sector crowded out those otherwise available for start-ups. For the greater Washington region, this has been the good news/bad news of proximity to the federal government.
Expected dynamics in the coming years will make this crowding out less likely. First, much of the required agility in innovation is more suited for small teams building technology products. This will drive technology product start-up growth; expect regional government contractors to be more active participants and partners in the start-up community as a result.
Second, promised tax cuts will free up significant amounts of capital to invest. Risk capital is the lifeblood of start-ups.
Third, start-ups will be affected by changes in regulation — or lack thereof — in two unexpected ways. It will be less likely that rules to encourage business competition by limiting concentrations of economic power (think net neutrality or antitrust) will be enforced. This will provide an advantage to large scale businesses operating in maturing industries, and make it harder for smaller businesses to compete and grow in existing industries.
Conversely, the lack of government intervention will allow start-ups creating something innovative to reach customers more quickly. With less friction, nimbleness is more likely to be rewarded.
The Trump administration will change Washington, D.C, and the politics and policies that affect these changes will be profound and likely hard fought.
Our region’s innovation community is used to pivoting, and although we don’t know what exactly will replace the status quo, we do know that the agile will be the winners.
Jonathan Aberman is a business owner, entrepreneur and founder of Tandem NSI, a national community that connects innovators to government agencies. He is host of “Forward Thinking Radio” on SiriusXM, a business and policy program, and lectures at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business.