On January 28, President Obama delivered his State of the Union address. Before it began, a group of techie types gathered at ECHO Lake Aquarium and Science Center in Burlington to discuss the “State of the Tech” in Vermont.

The discussion was organized by KSE Partners and sponsored by the Vermont Technology Alliance, Local 64, Google, the Vermont Chamber of Commerce, the Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce and Seven Days; I moderated the conversation. More than 50 people turned out to discuss Vermont’s tech economy and suggest a wish list for 2014.

Elliott Bent of KSE Partners took notes, which I’m posting here, below. If you missed the event, here’s a summary of the conversation, along with quotes from the president’s speech. If you’ve been following these kinds of forums over the last few years, some of this will no doubt look familiar.

State of the Tech in Vermont 



Much of our discussion, in one-way or another, centered around people. We want to extend a state brand that moves past the bucolic, which will be attractive for young entrepreneurs and create a stronger environment to foster entrepreneurs and a creative economy. Simultaneously, we need to ensure that people have access to the training and the knowledge they need to increase their value in the tech workforce, and thus supply Vermont companies with the skilled workers, which are hard to find in the area.

From the 2014 State of the Union

“Teachers and principals in schools from Tennessee to Washington, D.C., are making big strides in preparing students with the skills for the new economy — problem solving, critical thinking, science, technology, engineering, math.”

Part of this might be continuing to develop a “scene” more than occasional big one-time things (many people felt that there is already a scene – click here to view a calendar of tech events).

We all talk about Vermont’s issues with brain drain, but the state does not create incentives for universities to try and keep graduates in state after graduation with capital for businesses often built in college. At least a few school projects every year could go to market. We need to find a way to convert those projects into Vermont companies. We’re investing adequately in our schools, but not seeing returns in terms of new Vermont companies.

From the 2014 State of the Union

“My administration’s launched two hubs for high-tech manufacturing in Raleigh, North Carolina, and Youngstown, Ohio, where we’ve connected businesses to research universities that can help America lead the world in advanced technologies. Tonight, I’m announcing we’ll launch six more this year.”

On the other side of the coin, we have many experienced STEM workers leaving the state. These experienced workers typically already have roots in Vermont, but for one reason or another, need to leave. We need to find economic ways to keep them here.

From the 2014 State of the Union

“So tonight, I’ve asked Vice President Biden to lead an across- the-board reform of America’s training programs to make sure they have one mission: train Americans with the skills employers need, and match them to good jobs that need to be filled right now.”


The State

We want to see more open data integrated across the state. This will lead to greater transparency and innovation.

To that same end, we’d like to see the state engage in more fluid collaboration with groups. That collaboration has the potential of creating opportunities that will benefit Vermonters.

Contracts from the State of Vermont are very large tech contracts and often go to out-of-state firms. This could be due to a host of factors – in particular complex RFP processes. We want to make it easier for Vermont-based companies, with Vermont employees, to bid on our state IT contracts.


Patent Trolls

Our US delegation has been and will continue to be critical in the fight against patent trolls. Vermont has led the way in doing something about patent trolls, which affect tech companies and any other company using e-commerce. This is a unique opportunity to weigh in on Federal law that profoundly impacts the tech community. Those interested in what they can do should check out the Internet Association’s Action Center.

From the 2014 State of the Union

“And let’s pass a patent reform bill that allows our businesses to stay focused on innovation, not costly and needless litigation.”


Virtual Currency

Should we be encouraging Bitcoin use in Vermont? Does it make sense for us to create our own Vermont version of Bitcoin? Perhaps we can develop something based on VBSR’s exchange.


Incubator Space

We need to continue our focus on building incubator spaces, with a particular focus on areas outside Chittenden County. Removing obstacles like space, overhead and logistics is a big help to budding entrepreneurs. We’ve seen incredible success with co-working spaces all over the state. We just need to continue to extend that trend.



Access to capital needs to increase in the state. This might mean we need an ambassador to bring attention to the incredible amount of talent in the state. There has been talk about extending incentives to 2nd homeowners where they’d receive some form of property tax relief for investing in Vermont companies. We could also have something similar to Tech Jam, but focused exclusively on giving new companies the resources they need to make the right decisions and to know when and how to seek capital.

Everyone in the tech community should be aware of  EPSCoR grants

(Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research). There are many people in the Vermont community who have experience in getting these grants that could guide interested companies. The Vermont Technology Alliance has resources available for those interested in applying for these grants.

An upcoming resource is the Small Biz VT Summit. Also, Young Entrepreneurs should check out theLaunchVT (APP DEADLINE FEBRUARY 15).

People should also be aware that crowdsource financing is now legal and that companies have had interesting results with royalty financing.


From the 2014 State of the Union

“We know that the nation that goes all-in on innovation today will own the global economytomorrow. This is an edge America cannot surrender. Federally-funded research helped lead to the ideas and inventions behind Google and smartphones. And that’s why Congress should undo the damage done by last year’s cuts to basic research so we can unleash the next great American discovery.”



Outside of Chittenden County, Vermont has trouble with density of tech workers and tech companies. How can we facilitate interactions with businesses and workers throughout the state? We need to find ways to eliminate the Newport to Burlington commute – instead replacing it with a telecommute.


Increased Transit Infrastructure 

Vermont is uniquely situated between Boston, New York and Montreal. If we wish to pull talent and investment from those places, then we need to provide people the means to easily and quickly travel between those places. High-speed rail holds a lot of promise for the state.

From the 2014 State of the Union

“Moreover, we can take the money we save from this transition to tax reform to create jobs rebuilding our roads, upgrading our ports, unclogging our commutes — because in today’s global economy, first- class jobs gravitate to first-class infrastructure. We’ll need Congress to protect more than 3 million jobs by finishing transportation and waterways bills this summer. (Cheers, applause.) That can happen.”