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Tech workers pitch policy ideas at legislators

Massachusetts technology workers sometimes complain that they don’t have a voice on Beacon Hill, but at least one bill in the next legislative session will have come straight from their mouths.

State Senator Karen Spilka, an Ashland Democrat, and Representative Ann-Margaret Ferrante, a Gloucester Democrat, held a brainstorming session and policy pitch contest at PayPal’s Boston office at International Place on Wednesday, less than 24 hours after polls closed on Election Day.

The event resembled the hackathons that are so popular on the local startup scene, with attendees — a mix of tech pros and public officials — breaking into teams and proposing ideas to a panel of judges.


But the prize was unusual: A bill inspired by the winning pitch will be filed in the Legislature.

“We need to speak each other’s language, know what each other is talking about, and work better together,” said Spilka. “It’s not rocket science.”

The top policy proposal centered on opportunities for startup companies to earn government contracts through pilot programs in gateway cities, where innovative businesses might make big impacts. Several entrepreneurs said they felt shut out of a contract procurement process that often favors established firms with long track records of success.

If politicians struggle with the vernacular of tech workers, Wednesday night revealed the reverse can be true, also. In two-minute pitches, most presenters managed to highlight issues that are important to them but had a hard time forming concrete policy suggestions.

Still, people from both worlds said they were encouraged by new efforts to improve communication.

“I’ve never had an opportunity to speak directly to a government representative,” said Pradeep Aradhya, chief executive of Winchester app maker Novus Laurus. “This is the way to progress, to speed things up and improve the economy. To have the chance to talk to government and say, ‘Let’s figure out what policy should be,’ is as good as it gets.”


Callum Borchers can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @callumborchers.