Entrepreneurs Win at House Small Business Committee Markup

By: Jake Clabaugh, WIPP Government Relations

32cc090e-78c0-46b6-8130-e810a45a4029WIPP’s access to capital platform, Breaking the Bank, continues to gain traction in Congress as two more priorities cleared the House Small Business Committee during this morning’s markup. The Commercializing on Small Business Innovation Act provides much needed improvements to the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs. These programs provide funding for small businesses to innovate through research and development partnerships with federal agencies. WIPP’s platform advocates for a public-private partnership to accelerate the commercialization of technologies developed through the SBIR & STTR programs and the bill passed today does just that. The Commercialization Assistance Pilot Program will allow small businesses to receive additional funding to assist entrepreneurs with bringing their products to market after completing the program.

Women’s Business Centers (WBCs) are an invaluable resource for the 10 million women entrepreneurs in the country who annually contribute $1.4 trillion to the nation’s economy. Legislation to reauthorize this program, the Women’s Small Business Ownership Act of 2015, was cleared by the Senate Committee on Small Business last fall and now the House Committee has followed suit. The Developing the Next Generation of Small Businesses Act of 2016 provides much needed updates to the WBC program including expanding annual authorized funding to $21.75 million and increasing the grants available to centers that provide training and counseling to entrepreneurs.

We would like to thank Chair Steve Chabot (R-OH), Ranking Member Nydia Velazquez (D-NY), and Representative Judy Chu (D-CA) for prioritizing women entrepreneurs and passing both pieces legislation with bipartisan, unanimous votes.

 

 

 

Venture Capital Pool Opens for Women Entrepreneurs

By: Jake Clabaugh, WIPP Government Relations

VCIf you are an entrepreneur seeking capital, the path to venture funding could be getting a little easier. Earlier this month, the House Financial Services Committee took action on two bills that make venture investments more attainable for entrepreneurs – The Helping Angels Lead Our Startups (HALOS) Act and the Main Street Growth Act. As women entrepreneurs only receive 7% of venture dollars, improving access to venture capital is a top priority in the women’s business community.

Due to ambiguities in the law, pitch events or demo days that are sponsored by angel investors may or may not be legal. Yet, these events are a great opportunity for entrepreneurs to get themselves – and their products – in front of a room full of potential investors. The HALOS Act makes this easier by clarifying this ambiguity. Currently, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) prohibits “general advertising” and “general solicitation,” but the HALOS act would clarify that these events are permitted for groups of angel investors and not subject to the prohibition on general solicitations. The bill’s sponsor, House Small Business Committee Chair Steve Chabot (R-OH), remarked, “clarifying the law to give entrepreneurs and investors more certainty and opportunity is a step in the right direction.”

To further incentivize investment, The Main Street Growth Act (H.R. 4638) will create securities exchanges specifically for venture capital investments. Existing stock exchanges could create a new tier to specialize in venture capital investments or entirely new exchanges could be established. These securities exchanges will bring together buyers and sellers of venture capital and create a more liquid market, which will incentivize investors to support startups.

While no single policy change or piece of legislation will break down the barriers that prevent women entrepreneurs from accessing capital, these incremental improvements show that Congress is committed to leveling the playing field for women entrepreneurs. WIPP’s access to capital platform, Breaking the Bank, continues to gain traction with legislators and WIPP is dedicated to growing women entrepreneurs’ share of venture capital funding.

From the Hill: Small Contractors Make Big Gains in New Legislation

By: Jake Clabaugh WIPP Government Relations

 

ChabotThe House Small Business Committee is leading off 2016 by continuing its
efforts to make federal contracting more accessible to small businesses. Committee Chair Steve Chabot’s (R-OH) legislation, Defending America’s Small Contractors Act of 2016, makes an array of changes to procurement policy.

Although impossible to summarize all of the changes in a few paragraphs, which is why we have the link to the bill above, here are the highlights. The bill tackles transparency by rewriting – in plain English – the requirements for small business procurements. Since getting past performance is an obstacle for contractors getting started in federal contracting, the bill establishes a pilot program that enables them to get a past performance rating by submitting a request to the contracting officer and prime contractor. Offices of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization (OSDBUs) will now have increased authority to recommend which small business set-aside programs are most appropriate for each contract at their agency. The Act even touches the Department of Defense (DOD) by requiring that Mentor-Protégé plans in DOD’s program be approved by SBA – an update aimed at adding consistency to Mentor-Protégé Programs government-wide – but controversial since the last time we looked the Defense Department does not generally defer to SBA.

If some of these changes sound familiar, it’s because Anne Crossman, a member of WIPP’s Leadership Advisory Council, proposed several of these improvements during a Subcommittee hearing last fall.  Specifically, Anne noted WIPP’s “if you list us, use us” policy for prime contractors’ subcontracting plans and in her testimony she advocated for prime contractors to be accountable to the subcontractors listed on their plans. This bill incorporates Anne’s recommendations by requiring commercial market representatives (CMRs) assist prime contractors in identifying small business subcontractors and assess the prime’s compliance with their subcontracting plans.

The intent of the legislation is to assist federal agencies in meeting their small business contracting goals. The goal for women owned companies of 5% has never been met. A continued push for data transparency surfaces in the bill as well, requiring agencies to do a better job of reporting the contracting dollars awarded to small businesses.

The Committee is expected to hold a markup to consider this legislation during the week of January 11.  The WIPP Government Relations team will continue to provide updates as the bill moves through Congress.

More Than Cheer In Congressional Stocking

stocking

Women business owners enter the holiday season with a gift from Congress — more money for important women’s entrepreneurship programs.

Just when it seemed like Members of Congress would have to delay their Holiday break, the House and Senate passed two key bills to conclude the legislative year. After funding the government with stopgap measures for over two months, Congress agreed on a spending bill thru September 2016. Accompanying the yearlong spending bill is a bipartisan agreement to extend expiring tax rules for businesses and families. Both bills give women-owned businesses reason to celebrate during the Holiday season.

The $1.1 trillion funding bill sets spending levels for all government programs through September 30, 2016. Congress increased funding for many of the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) lending and entrepreneurial development programs. The chart below highlights WIPP’s priorities and the programs import to women entrepreneurs:

  FY2016 WIPP’s Request FY2015
Women’s Business Centers $17 million $16 million $15 million
National Women’s Business Council $1.5 million $1 million $1 million
Microloan Program Lending $35 million $35 million $25 million
Microloan Program Technical Assistance $25 million $25 million $22.3 million
PRIME Program $5 million $5 million $5 million
Office of Advocacy $9.1 million $9.1 million $8.45 million

WIPP advocated throughout 2015 on behalf of women-owned businesses and entrepreneurs and WIPP’s efforts culminated in full and increased funding levels for vital programs. Congress gave a huge boost to the microloan program- a primary capital access vehicle for women-owned businesses – by expanding lending authority by 40% to $35 million. Women’s business Centers (WBCs) will receive an increase of $2 million, which will enable the WBC program to provide additional grants for entrepreneurial development training for women entrepreneurs. Not only did WIPP advocate for increased funding for the WBC program, WIPP supported The Women’s Small Business Ownership Act of 2015. This bill would increase the WBC program’s authorization to $21.75 million, increase awards to Centers from $150,000 to $250,000, and provide modernizations to the program’s granting and approval process.

Congress’ tax “extenders” bill, an annual extension of certain tax credits and deductions, provides certainty for businesses and valuable incentives for research and investment. The Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act will expand and make permanent small business expensing rules and the Research and Development (R&D) Tax Credit. Lawmakers permanently extended the small business expensing limitation of $500,000 that was in effect from 2010 to 2014.  Had this rule not been extended, businesses would only have been allowed to deduct a maximum of $200,000 for machinery and equipment investments.

The bill also makes permanent the R&D credit, making it easier for start-ups and small businesses to receive tax deductions for innovative projects. According to WIPP’s 2015 Survey of Women Business Owners, tax burdens were the prime concern of women-owned firms. Specifically, women business owners cited uncertainty in tax credits and deductions as an annual concern. This bill helps alleviate some of the uncertainty.

As we wrap up 2015, Congress’s end of the year legislation provides full funding and certainty for programs important to women entrepreneurs.  We are looking forward to a productive and successful 2016.

Time for Congress to Move a Neutral Net into Drive

WIPP infographic II

Capital investment is a solid predictor of economic health. That’s why recent news in the communications policy arena deserves Congress’ attention.

Last week, a new regulatory regime over the Internet took effect. But before these rules came to life, a half-dozen small Internet providers in the Midwest, South and Pacific Northwest told federal officials that they had been forced to cut back on expanding faster broadband service because of the FCC’s recent decision to begin micromanaging the Internet.

All six of these Internet providers specialize in serving small towns and underserved areas; none have the size or scale to accommodate the new regulations’ expenses without budget cuts elsewhere. Moreover, their statements were made under threat of perjury.

For women in particular, this issue should raise serious concerns. Almost half of women-owned businesses are home-based. Anything that slows home broadband deployment has a potential to impact the full economic participation of women.

These verified reports about higher regulatory costs and less money for investment are a clear “canary in the coal mine” warning to Congress about the FCC’s decision to regulate the Internet with Title II regulations written in 1934. That 3-2 party line vote on February 26 overturned decades of successful experience about the benefits of “light touch” rules for the Internet.

Prior to that ill-fated FCC vote, federal Internet policy was both an area of broad agreement and a shining example of successfully encouraging an important new industry. The lack of federal micromanagement that was a hallmark of federal policy since Bill Clinton’s Presidency was key to unleashing a tidal wave of communications investment — $1.3 trillion since 1996 and $75 billion just in 2013.

The results speak for themselves, especially when compared with other countries’ experiences. The U.S. has a huge lead over Europe in both fiber optic deployment and high-speed 4G LTE broadband. Americans spend more time talking on their mobile phones than people in any developed country in the world.

This investment also produced jobs – lots of them. The growth of the mobile app economy, which developed because of America’s high-speed wireless networks, sustains more than 750,000 U.S. jobs, according to the Progressive Policy Institute.

The FCC’s decision to regulate the Internet as a public utility with outdated Title II rules undercuts the very policies that helped spur this success. The FCC’s action is as inexplicable as it is wrongheaded.

Indeed, the Commission’s efforts to explain this action border on the comical. As Hal Singer noted in a recent Forbes commentary, the FCC’s own economic analysis of its action is almost amusing. For example, the agency claimed that the broadband industry’s strong record of investment in 2010 showed that its regulations encourage investment, despite the fact that the Commission’s vote on a more reasonable set of Internet rules occurred on December 21, 2010.

Ultimately, the key reason that Congress must update America’s communications laws is to protect the people who lost an opportunity for better Internet service, because the FCC’s action added pointless new expenses and legal uncertainties to broadband deployment.

The 8,000 St. Louis-area residents served by Wisper ISP, a Missouri-based Internet provider, have felt the negative impact of these utility style regulations. As a result of the FCC’s decision, Wisper estimates that compliance costs will grow to 10% of its operating revenue. It has already had to cut investment, resulting in what the company calls “slower broadband speeds, less dense coverage, and absence of expansion into new areas.”

It is a testament to the bipartisan, light-touch policies implemented back when Internet access meant a 56 KB modem that consumers enjoy so much today. Yet, at just the time when the United States was poised to run the table in a 21st century economy, the FCC pulled the rug out from under small businesses. The FCC’s February vote, and last week’s rules enactment, undid the phenomenal success of the modern Internet.

It is time for Congress to set things right again. We hope that members of both parties come together to enact common-sense legislation that both protects the Internet and reinstitutes the wise telecom policy that has brought us the Internet we use and enjoy today.