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For tech sector, a mix of optimism, concern about Trump presidency

November 11, 2016

Following Donald Trump's surprising victory in the U.S. presidential race, several local technology executives and investors said they're encouraged there's going to be an entrepreneur in the White House. But many of those same leaders expressed concern about the potential for Trump rhetoric or policies that would marginalize women and minorities.

Trump has had a few dust-ups with major tech companies, calling for people to boycott Apple in the wake of its feud with the FBI over unlocking an iPhone, for instance, or stating that Amazon has a "huge anti-trust problem." Google's CEO last year rebuked Trump's call for a ban on Muslim immigration to the U.S.

Those tensions may not have much impact on Indiana-based software companies, but issues such as changes to federal tax policy likely will. Trump has called for lowering corporate taxes, and those and other pro-business policies could bode well for local firms, some said.

Chris Baggott, CEO of food-tech outfit ClusterTruck, said he would expect to see fewer regulations, but it remains to be seen if Trump strikes a more "conciliatory" tone about ethnic and religious groups he's ostracized or if he proceeds to "stir up more anger."

Nick Birch, founder of Propel, said he's heard from businesspeople who are excited about potential tax changes. But he said the tech community employs a large number of social progressives, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender—or LGBT—individuals who "are rightfully concerned about what's going to happen with their rights at a federal level."

Trump has made comments seeming to promote LGBT rights, but he's also pledged to appoint conservative judges to the Supreme Court.

Some suggested that Trump's impact will be not only about his policies but his mindset. JJ Thompson, CEO of cyber security firm Rook Security, said the Oval Office could benefit from an entrepreneur "who's not afraid to challenge the status quo." He also said he expects a Trump administration to be fiercely aggressive when it comes to cyber security attacks—in other words, retaliating instead of just taking it when America is targeted.

Overall, though, Thompson said he and others in the tech community are cautiously optimistic.

Susan Marshall, CEO of Torchlite, said she's still absorbing the election results but suggested that they're unlikely to impact her business operations any time soon.

"It's a little bit soon to know what will happen, and change certainly doesn't happen overnight," she said. "So I definitely think it's kind of a wait-and-see attitude."

Jim Brown, executive vice president at digital ad agency Statwax, said, "I cannot stand the fact that he was elected," but "business has to keep going."

Brown said he was an outspoken opponent of Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act—a law widely seen as anti-gay—that Gov. Mike Pence signed into law in 2015, despite strong tech opposition. But he also said Vice President-elect Pence became tuned into the burgeoning technology sector here (which ultimately led to a $1 billion innovation proposal before he joined Trump's ticket), and that he could utilize that experience at a national level.

"We have a Hoosier in the White House," Brown said, later adding, "I would not be surprised if we have people in our tech community getting tapped" for cabinet or advisory positions.

But Brown said he feels for women and minorities who have heard Trump's past remarks and wonder "do we not matter?" Even if some of Trump's comments aren't rooted in reality, he said, "people are scared."

Kristen Cooper, who runs the Startup Ladies in Fishers, said various entrepreneurs and members from the tech and LGBT communities expressed their concerns about the election results. She said it’s been amazing to see micro-communities reaching out and supporting one another, and that the Hoosiers she works with “are committed to building an entrepreneurial culture that is inclusive.” 

“I have never been more optimistic about women entrepreneurs in the state of Indiana,” she said. “We're going to keep doing what we've been doing—building scalable businesses and an inclusive business environment.”

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