Emerging tech and the overlooked board member

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Bradley L. By Gerstmann, Co-founder of Gotham Government Relations and Gerstman Schwartz LLP.

In its most distinguished form, the Board of Directors is defined as a “group of people who manage or direct a company or organization.” For both for-profit and non-profit organizations, the existence of such a structure helps to ensure that all aspects of the brand are geared towards success. These range from finance and legal skills to fundraising and industry-related skills. When a strong board of directors is in place, the CEO has an immediate line to reach out to experts with vested interests (often financial) in their vision.

Similarly, advisory boards, which are usually more informal, are also designed to guide businesses. While this type of executive committee is not usually legally bound to the company, it does play a key role in paving the way for success. Consultants can be hired for a variety of reasons, including filling in knowledge gaps, supporting a new project, or acting as a sounding board for a CEO.

Like all other businesses, tech companies and startups need basic board members. These individuals usually include high-level auditors, strong general advisors (in addition to any legal advisors the company has) and operators (who have successfully raised companies in the past). Each of these experts plays a key role in helping guide a new or emerging company. Interestingly, however, when it comes to emerging businesses, there is one potential board member who continues to be ignored, for the unrealistic loss of the tech world.

It may surprise you, but for technology companies and startups, one of the most needed consultants in your team is a government relations specialist. Here’s why:

In addition to teaching businesses how to measure their growth and how to connect to the required networks, the board needs to provide companies with the ability to open doors. As individuals whose entire careers revolve around understanding the logistics of government agencies and interests, lobbyists know better than anyone how to do it. From fundraising to relationship building, there is the reach of a great lobbyist who can change the course of a business. However, this is not all: outside of their networking talents, lobbyists are also fluent in government processes. That is, they not only have the skills to identify potential barriers because they relate to rules and policies, but also how to navigate them.

Regulators, whether in individual positions or in the form of a board of directors, are appointed to oversee the industry. For those working in emerging technologies, this can be particularly challenging, although innovations do not always fit into existing models of management. As a result, regulators may improperly try to limit what a company can and cannot do. With a government relations specialist in your corner, however, it can be more difficult to accomplish. In fact, policy experts are trained not only to understand the structure of government, but also to identify areas of interest and opportunity.

Unlike regulators, legislators are elected by the community. It is their duty to support their support needs and interests, otherwise they will not be re-elected. So, as you can imagine, building connections with community members and representatives is an essential step for emerging tech companies that can take to level the playing field. What they say is true – the government can slow down business and often will. However, if a member of the government believes in your vision, they can also help reduce roadblocks by voting to change existing or old laws. In these situations, it is important that the board member can make the necessary introductions and / or speak on behalf of the company.

If the opportunity presents itself, lobbyists can advise on applications, in which case the government can be a buyer. Establishing quick access and relationships with decision makers, regulators, powerful community members and legislators is key to advancing meaningful government sales opportunities. Take Adtech, for example. In an area like this, where government plays an integral role in communication, sales can be a perfect game-changer for both the emerging industry and those operating within it.

It is not surprising that the basic goal of every business is to be and remain profitable. By equipping the founders with the knowledge needed to overcome regulatory hurdles and understand industry policies, government relations specialists provide rapid additional value to technology companies. CEOs who can easily answer questions related to these areas increase both their business valuation and investor confidence. In turn, this reduces the list of potential risks associated with their vision and increases the likelihood of future sales. Reaching out to key decision makers and government officials streamlines the process.

So, what do you think? Is it finally time for government relations experts to sit at the table? I would say so.

Brad Gerstmann is a leading New York State attorney, lobbyist and communications expert. He is also a co-founder of Gotham Government Relations and Gerstman Schwartz LLP.


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