Tech leaders create association to lobby for industry interests at Statehouse

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Indiana’s technology industry leaders on Tuesday morning are scheduled to announce the formation of a new trade association to represent their interests at the Statehouse.

The organization, called the Indiana Technology and Innovation Association, already includes more than 90 technology companies ranging from startups to major players such as Salesforce and AT&T.

The group has not yet finalized an agenda for the upcoming legislative session, but its policy committee is drafting positions in areas including capital and talent issues.

Tech leaders say the official group is needed to give the industry a permanent voice at the Statehouse and to be able to consistently provide updates to state lawmakers on their concerns.

The Indiana Chamber of Commerce established the Technology and Innovation Council last year, but the tech industry itself hasn't had its own trade association.

“It’s been a long time coming,” said Launch Fishers Founder and CEO John Wechsler, who is vice chairman of the board for the association. “The idea here is to create a structure, a mechanism to carry forward the voice of tech.”

John McDonald, CEO of Fishers-based ClearObject and board member for the group, said state lawmakers often ask how they can help the tech community but don’t have a thorough understanding of the problems companies are facing.

“We want to close the door to any confusion or lack of understanding of those issues,” McDonald said.

He said it became clear to him that the tech community needed something like the ITIA after the Religious Freedom Restoration Act controversy in 2015.

“We’re just amateurs,” McDonald said.

McDonald said the industry had some big policy victories in the last year regarding taxation of cloud- or subscription-based software and creation of the Next Level Fund, but he thinks they can accomplish even more now. The group is expected to hire lobbyists that will advocate for them at the Statehouse.

“There are people that know how to do this and know how to do this well,” McDonald said.

Board members told IBJ they expect the association to still work closely with the Indiana Chamber of Commerce and the Indy Chamber.

“There’s going to be a lot of things that we’re going to lock arms on,” McDonald said.

McDonald, who is working on the policy committee for the association, said issues like hate crimes legislation, trade education and access to talented workers, access to venture capital dollars and improving the health of Hoosiers are topics being discussed now. Once recommendations are made by the policy committee, the members will vote on the positions.

McDonald said he expects the group to announce a formal agenda once members have their say.

First Internet Bank CEO David Becker, who will serve as chairman of the board for the association, said he thinks the group could wield significant power given the number of companies already involved.

“Obviously, with any new startup, you’ve gotta build credibility,” Becker said. “I think we can get credibility pretty quickly. We’re here and we’re here to stay.”

Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma said the tech sector is a significant part of the state's economy, so he expects to work with the group.

"It's a very important part of our future economy, and we’ll work closely with them as we do with other groups,” Bosma said. 

The growth in membership has already impressed some board members. McDonald said at one point, they were seeing a new sign-up every hour.

“It’s been remarkable,” McDonald said. “I don’t know exactly where it will end.”

Annual membership costs range from $500 to $10,000 and are based on the annual revenue of the company.

Many of the member companies are from the Indianapolis area, but others are spread throughout the state, in Bloomington, Terre Haute, Muncie, Lafayette, Crown Point and Fort Wayne.

“I’ve seen really great entrepreneurs in all corners of the state… without a real voice,” Wechsler said. "We’ve finally come together.”

Tech leaders have a press conference planned for 10:30 a.m. at the Statehouse to formally announce the creation of the association.

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