Venture Capitalists Largely No-Shows at White House Tech Event
(Bloomberg) — AOL founder and Revolution Ventures chairman Steve Case hadn’t yet set foot in the White House for Thursday’s meeting on emerging technology, but already he felt the need to justify showing up.
“I know some people will question my decision to attend the gathering of investors at the White House,” he wrote in a blog post Wednesday. “I have long advocated for leaders of any kind to engage if given the opportunity.”
The meeting is part of what the White House has dubbed as Tech Week, an event that in some ways has underscored Silicon Valley’s differences with Donald Trump. Technology company leaders have recoiled from the president’s position on various issues, including his efforts to limit immigration and his decision to pull the U.S. out of the Paris climate accords. In contrast to the White House, venture capitalists have backed greater investments in technologies aligned with the climate treaty’s goals to reduce global greenhouse gases and many startups are fighting for more visas to help buttress their employee talent.
The gathering Thursday focuses on emerging technologies, the inventors who build them and the venture capitalists who fund them. Firms including Accel Partners and Andreessen Horowitz said they couldn’t attend due to scheduling conflicts. Sequoia Capital was invited, but declined to comment on why no one from the firm was traveling to the event. Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers also said scheduling conflicts wouldn’t allow a representative to attend on Thursday. Chairman John Doerr participated in Monday’s session on modernizing government at the White House with Trump and major tech company executives including Apple Inc.’s Tim Cook.
Others who planned to attend Thursday’s session, including Lightspeed Ventures’ founding partner Barry Eggers, didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment on their decisions, although there is much on the agenda to interest VCs. Topics include the drone industry, connected devices and how to encourage innovation in more parts of the country. NEA Chairman Peter Barris said the White House asked him not to share details on the event in advance. Trump is scheduled to join the group late in the morning, after a series of breakout sessions, according to a schedule released by the White House.
About two-thirds of venture investments go to Silicon Valley, Boston, and New York, according to the National Venture Capital Association — all areas that opposed Trump in last year’s presidential election.
Privately, several of those who were invited to Thursday’s session said they saw no benefit in going and didn’t want to compromise their reputations by fraternizing with an unpopular president.
Unlike the leaders of more established technology companies who attended Monday’s meeting, including executives from Google, Microsoft Corp., and Amazon.com Inc., venture capitalists have little to lose by skipping the event. They don’t have products to boycott, for example, or shareholders that might sell stock.
In his blog post, Case said he had previously worked with Republican and Democratic administrations, and wanted to continue to do so.
“I would argue that there is perhaps no more important time to take a seat at the table,” he wrote.