What does a Biden administration mean for Aussie tech?

Joe Biden

President-elect Joe Biden on election night.

After a week of anxious waiting, the US finally has its president-elect, with Joe Biden slowly but surely sweeping the electoral college.

And, while a new era of more stability and certainty comes as a welcome change to trade relations, globally, what effect will a new administration in the White House have on the tech sector — in the US, in Australia, and around the world?

StartupAus chief Alex McCauley tells SmartCompany he feels the result will be “very much in Australia’s interest”.

“An America that goes back to fostering international cooperation and engaging constructively in global affairs is exactly what Australia and the world need right now,” he says.

However, if there’s any downside, it’s that Aussie startups may have to work a little harder to recruit talent from the US, and from around the world.

That said, a Biden presidency could make things a little easier for those startups looking to expand to the US anytime soon, or those that already have a presence there.

Speaking to SmartCompany, Right Click Capital partner Benjamin Chong calls the result “a net positive” for the Aussie tech ecosystem.

“A Biden administration is going to bring American politics back to a more centrist, stable situation,” he says.

“It will be easier to read, easier to interpret, and easier to make decisions around.”

However, Chong says he’s seen Aussies picking up from the US and relocating back to Australia. Partly, that’s because of the extent of the COVID-19 health crisis in the States, he says. Partly, it’s because of the polarisation of political discourse.

“That’s interesting from a talent perspective,” he says.

But, the US is a significant growth market for Aussies, and that’s not likely to change any time soon.

It’s the largest English-speaking market in the world, and a well-trodden path for Aussie businesses looking to go international, he notes.

“It remains a very large and aspirational market for Australian tech companies.”

A tech-friendly administration

M8 Ventures partner Alan Jones tells SmartCompany he expects a Biden administration to “lean pretty heavily” into innovation and tech.

“If they want to address climate change, all of that’s going to require technology,” he says.

The same goes for the telco systems, highways, infrastructure, schools, and all manner of other issues.

“I expect to see the US become a very friendly place for startups,” he says.

For Australian startups, the challenge is to present themselves as potential significant employers in the US — and employers of Americans.

There’s also an opportunity to attract funding from American VCs, he notes.

“A lot of early-stage capital in the US is relatively liberal … so I think they’re going to feel fairly buoyant and optimistic,” Jones says.

These are VCs that are more likely to invest based on the strength of the idea, and user growth, rather than on revenue, he notes.

“Silicon Valley will continue to invest in the best ideas — we’ve got to bring them the best ideas.”

The influence of Silicon Valley

Home to Silicon Valley and also the most valuable tech businesses in the world, we can’t ignore the influence the US tech sector has on innovation in the rest of the world.

The Biden-Harris campaign hasn’t had much of a focus on what the president-elect’s approach to ‘big tech’’ issues will be, or how exactly the administration will approach innovation in the States.

It has been reported a Biden administration could seek to repeal a decades-old law that protects the likes of Google, Facebook and Twitter from lawsuits over content posted on its platforms — something that could have knock-on ramifications for small and up-and-coming tech companies too.

He also has a history of introducing and co-sponsoring legislation making it easier for the FBI and law enforcement to monitor communications over the internet — something that, as we know here in Australia, doesn’t bode well for any tech sector.

That said, the biggest tech companies in the world are US companies. The government is unlikely to clamp down on that opportunity too hard.

Hailing from California, it’s notably that Kamala Harris has been called a friend to the tech industry.

As to what effect this has on the rest of the world, the jury is out.

Chong suggests it’s significant. If Biden brings in more regulation to big tech, that could set an example to the rest of the world.

“It means big tech needs to do a better job of explaining what it does with our data … and possibly change some of the behaviour that has been negative, not only in the US but in places like Australia,” Chong says.

On the other hand, however, while Jones foresees more focus on innovation, he doesn’t think the Aussie government is likely to follow suit.

“We have different priorities here,” he says.

The Morrison government hasn’t been an innovation-friendly one. Just weeks ago the Prime Minister said he wasn’t interested in leading global innovation, but adopting tech.

“I think they will be caught flat-footed, they won’t pivot well or will resist pivoting at all, and choose to dig their heels in.”

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