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The Podium

Mass. should get rid of noncompete agreements

Acquia staffers, including chief executive Tom Erickson (foreground). Acquia Photo

Acquia staffers, including chief executive Tom Erickson (foreground). Acquia Photo

Non-compete agreements stifle innovation; they restrict companies from tapping the best talent to grow their business. A current proposal being considered on Beacon Hill would render non-competes longer than six months largely unenforceable. It’s a proposed compromise from an earlier proposal that would have effectively eliminated non-competes entirely. Technology companies in Massachusetts should take a leadership position on this matter, ceasing the use of non-competes no matter the bill’s ultimate fate.

We’ve eliminated non-competes at Acquia. We have more than 400 employees and continue to grow at a blistering pace. We work with a spirit of transparency, open collaboration and innovation, and non-competes are antithetical to the culture of trust that we foster and value.

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Eliminating non-competes is the right thing for our team, our company, and the technology industry as a whole. We’re confident that this demonstration of respect for our colleagues will be to our advantage, and that Acquia will be a better magnet for talent. We expect our employees to honor their confidentiality agreements; we don’t believe we need to restrict their mobility to achieve that goal. The state’s technology community offers a great economic engine to the Commonwealth, and eliminating non-competes will make the future of our community brighter.

Acquia has strong roots in the open source technology community. Open source communities thrive on the unrestrained collaboration of people across the globe. I believe all businesses can learn from this; the speed of innovation, fueled by the freedom of open collaboration, is game-changing. Open source technologies and the Maker Revolution show us that an open business community helps companies grow quickly. Would 3D printing advance so rapidly without its open collaborative community? If the technology community in Massachusetts is limited artificially, our collective success will also be constrained.

Future technology entrepreneurs in the Commonwealth want to innovate rapidly, with unrestrained mobility to advance their careers. The best and brightest who graduate from the state’s top universities well understand the consequences of non-competes to their upward mobility. Non-competes effectively push these would-be entrepreneurs to other tech hubs like Silicon Valley, where such agreements aren’t enforced.

I believe tech company leaders will do well to focus on their culture as a means to retention. Offer a work environment where employees can thrive. Individuals today value companies that value them, and a company that respects team members will ultimately retain more talent better than any non-compete.

Non-competes restrict the growth of our startup economy, making it harder to spin off great ideas into new companies. They discourage the best among us from forging their own solutions, and force a “cooling-off” period where great ideas slowly burn out. Non-competes are a stumbling block that prevents the Massachusetts tech sector from competing at its full potential.

Now is the time to incite change. Virtual reality is becoming, well, a reality; look no further than Facebook’s $2 billion acquisition of Oculus VR. The employees responsible for Oculus’ innovative wearable tech and related products (many are MIT alum) may be poised to launch the next generation of Silicon Valley startups without a non-competition waiting period. They’ll take on the new great opportunities in the Internet of Things, and further bolster the California economy. Startups like these are our fastest path to innovation and growth, and companies that would stand in the path of that progress do all of us a disservice.

Massachusetts has similar amazing opportunities before it. The Commonwealth boasts the best robotics talent in the country. The opportunity for Massachusetts to become an innovation center for the Internet of Things is within our grasp. Today, consumers strap on all kinds of appliances to measure heart rate and miles walked or jogged. The thermostats in our homes are “smart” and we will soon have cars that do the driving for us. In this age of the Internet of Things, innovation a crucial component of daily business. Make no mistake, non-competes effectively unplug the Commonwealth from prime-mover advantage in this space.

Today, continuous innovation is the norm. If a business isn’t innovating, it will fall by the wayside. Massachusetts must have the strongest, most talented technology workforce possible to stay on pace with innovation. The state will gain a competitive edge and the promise of a larger startup economy when we eliminate the chilling effect of non-competes.

Tom Erickson is CEO of Acquia.
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