This guest column is authored by Tusk Ventures founder Bradley Tusk, in which he explores how the tech community will grapple with the political fights that await in 2019. Disclosure: Tusk Ventures is invested in or works with several companies mentioned in this column including Eaze, FanDuel, Bird, Ro and Nurx.
When a startup succeeds, the prize isn’t just a higher valuation or more customers or bigger market share. They also win far more scrutiny from regulators, the media, elected officials, and advocates. Next year promises to be no different with a host of new ideas ready to take center stage in legislatures across the nation. While the only safe political prediction anyone can make is that no one knows what will ever actually happen, here are eight startup sectors likely to find themselves at the center of the storm in the coming year:
Major states like New York, Illinois and New Jersey will likely vote to legalize recreational cannabis. That does two things for cannabis tech: (1) It widely expands market opportunities for delivery, media, distribution, and marketplaces; and (2) Once establishment U.S. cities like New York legalize cannabis, the timeframe to removing cannabis as a Schedule I drug federally speeds up with it. There’s a lot at stake here for cannabis-focused companies like Eaze and Herb.
In May, the Supreme Court gave states the right to decide whether to allow sports betting. Come January, a slew of states across the nation will take them up on it, introducing bills to legalize new types of gambling and then holding auctions and licensing processes to make it a reality and decide who wins and who loses. This is make-or-break for companies like FanDuel and DraftKings. It’s also the first opportunity for e-sports to break into the political mainstream.
There’s been a lot of debate recently over the proper valuations of electric scooter startups like Bird and Lime. A lot of that may depend on legislation pending in City Councils across the country. If cities like New York, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, Miami, Seattle and Portland legalize scooters, that’s a big win for the sector. If they don’t, it’ll be a huge problem.
If 2018 was the year that #MeToo came to life, 2019 could be the year that companies are truly held accountable for their hiring practices. Paying lip service to diversity is one thing. Actually delivering on it is another. Startups like Pymetrics, a developer of neuroscience-based assessments for staffing services, could see a big boost as the political headwinds (especially as political superstars like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez take power) start demanding accountability.
It’s highly possible that Congress manages to pass nothing meaningful in 2019. But if there is one area ripe for bipartisanship, it’s a massive infrastructure bill. As much as a trillion dollars could be appropriated by the federal government for new projects. It would be political malpractice if the construction tech sector fails to capitalize on it — by creating mandates that require the use of new technologies to make the infrastructure process far more efficient. Whether the construction tech sector has the organization and heft to make a dent inside the Beltway remains to be seen but there is a great opportunity here.
2018 saw the first ever votes cast over the blockchain in a U.S. election, with the state of West Virginia offering mobile voting to deployed military from 24 counties. Look for new jurisdictions to announce mobile voting for their 2019 elections, with a tremendous amount of focus on the potential of blockchain to handle and, ultimately, transform democracy. There’s a lot at stake on this one. [Term Sheet Note: Tusk helped spearhead the West Virginia blockchain voting pilot.]
Unless Airbnb makes a major run at becoming legal in New York, 2019 may not see an unusual amount of political activity on the short-term rental front. But that could be very different for the budding co-living sector, capturing new trends and social norms among millennials and new solutions to the affordability crisis. Co-living startup StarCity already made a move with the city of San Jose. Expect to see more.
The good news for the tele-health sector is that everyone across the ideological spectrum loves it. Conservatives love tele-health. Liberals love tele-health. It’s the rare issue with bipartisan support. However, that means lots and lots of actual work ahead, in both the states and in Washington, with rules and regulations being issued at a faster and faster clip to govern how tele-health should actually work and be reimbursed. This will healthcare tech companies like Ro, Nurx and HIMS busy.
Most startups now realize they have to take politics seriously — just how seriously is what we’ll find out in the coming year.