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Digital policy misfires will turn back the clock for small business

Government should absolutely keep an eye on data collection, digital platforms and all the new technologies. But it is essential that regulation be balanced, and that second- and third-degree impacts be carefully considered.

I am a serial entrepreneur. I started many businesses, and I have worked with hundreds more. Regardless of their size or industry, all businesses have a common goal: to convert frustration into solutions. That is why startups and small businesses, including our co-working company, rely on digital platforms to build, grow and operate. America’s leading digital platforms have cracked the code; they offer extraordinary free and low-cost tools that convert small business frustration into solutions.

Kyle Coolbroth
Kyle Coolbroth
The small business digital transition has been remarkable. There are digital tools for raising capital, hiring team members, managing projects, writing code, building products, managing finances and marketing, which are just some of the ways technology helps small businesses succeed. While I am confident that the small business digital evolution will continue, I am concerned that the government is aggressively criticizing and scrutinizing America’s most successful digital companies. I worry that policymakers will force America’s largest tech companies to change, and in doing so will turn back the clock on a decade of small business advances.

A place to belong

In 2009, with several successful businesses behind me and looking for the “next thing,” I started to notice some trends. Mobile technology was exploding, Twitter was on the rise, and the Great Recession was forcing more people to embrace freelancing and entrepreneurship. In America so much of our identity is tied to our work, and I realized that many new entrepreneurs really needed more than a place to work. They needed a place to belong.

From the outside our business resembles typical coworking. We rent large office spaces, then sublease small chunks to start-ups and small companies. But we differ from our competitors in the people part of the business. Our workspaces are designed and operated to promote a culture of connection and collaboration across companies. We build relationships with our startups and small businesses, and when they graduate into their own office space we use technology and events to maintain those relationships and continue growing our community. Many “graduates” stay connected with us and gain new connections to succeeding generations of entrepreneurs.

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Digital tools and platforms are crucial to our success and growth. We use and help our tenants learn how to leverage G Suite for operations and communications, Hubspot for sales and marketing, and Google Ads. We use Facebook, LinkedIn, and Eventbrite to market our events. We also use several digital tools for accounting, employee scheduling, and ordering supplies. In essence, all our business operations are hosted in the cloud.

As essential as printer ink or electricity

When policymakers speak of regulating digital technology and platforms, they seem to view Google, Facebook and other large companies in isolation. But for our company and millions of small businesses, platforms’ technology and data powered solutions are as essential as printer ink or electricity. Digital platforms have data and sophisticated means to help small businesses reach prospects and provide benefits to our customers. If government hampers platforms’ ability to collect data or share that data across business units, or forces platforms to break apart, this powerful ecosystem could fall apart.

I love the concept of creative destruction – the chaos that results from new technology that ultimately rights itself into valuable commercial opportunities. All technology can be used and misused, but our next generation of technologies – blockchain, artificial intelligence and augmented reality – have greater potential for good than bad if we are intentional about enabling it versus restricting it.

Government should absolutely keep an eye on data collection, digital platforms and all the new technologies. But it is essential, for small businesses in Minnesota and nationwide, that regulation be balanced, and that second- and third-degree impacts be carefully considered so small businesses are not unintended victims of new regulations. We are living in a golden age of entrepreneurship, but new regulations must be done carefully and correctly or government runs the risk of turning back the clock. Small businesses will suffer most.

Kyle Coolbroth is co-founder and CEO of Fueled Collective, a membership-based co-working and social club with locations in the Twin Cities and Cincinnati.

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