James Chrisholm is the executive director for the New England Tech Project, a regional technology advocacy organization, which recently launched in the Ocean State.
A native of Medford, Mass. Chisholm graduated from Connecticut College with a Bachelor’s Degree in history and has served as chief of staff to At Large Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressleyand as speechwriter and deputy press secretary of Sen. John F. Kerry.
Chrisholm talked to Providence Business News about his organization, what he hopes to accomplish and how the technology industry in New England has evolved in the past decade.
PBN: Can you explain a bit about the New England Tech Project and what you hope to accomplish?
CHISHOLM: The New England tech Project is a regional tech advocacy organization working to promote public policies that support the region’s tech-driven economy. New England is home to a world class collection of colleges and universities ensuring a steady flow of talent to a region already rich with native brainpower. We have impressive tech innovators, startups and established companies, all within a relatively dense area.
But we trip ourselves up by thinking of ourselves always as a six states in competition with each other. The new, technology-driven economy is global, and if we want to compete in it we have to act as a region in order to strengthen every New England state. Right now, it can be overly complicated for a business located in Rhode Island to also do business in Massachusetts, or vice versa, because of the mismatched policies between the two.
What could we achieve if we thought of the six New England states as partners in a national and global competition? What would be possible if we worked together to promote beneficial tech and business policies throughout our region? NETP aims to encourage this collaboration – between tech and government and between the six states.
We focus on a variety of tech-related policy issues, which might differ from state to state. Some of our current policy priorities include broadband access, access to STEM learning, support for start-ups and tech entrepreneurs, research and development, venture capital incentives and high-tech infrastructure.
PBN: Who are some of your member organizations?
CHISHOLM: In Rhode Island, we are working with the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Rhode Island, and the bRIdge initiative. Some of our other member organizations include the Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts; 4INFO, a mobile advertising service; Tech Goes Home, a Boston-based program helping to increase technology access and education in low-income areas. Our partners range from startups like achvr to Fortune 100 companies like AT&T.
PBN: Why did you decide to get involved with NETP?
CHISHOLM: I’ve been working on many of these issues for years. My background is in politics and government and I was involved in issues such as access to broadband, attracting and retaining talent and supporting innovative companies during my time with Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley and Senator John Kerry, as well as a staffer at the Massachusetts State House. A rise in competition for tech talent from Silicon Valley, New York City and other up-and-coming tech hubs compelled me to take a more active role in safeguarding New England’s status as a global center of innovation and technology. I’m from here, went to school here and live and work here- I love New England and want to see our economy flourishing.
PBN: You're said one of the goals of NETP is to help keep graduating students in the state, how do you hope to do that?
CHISHOLM: Adam Leonard, Program Manager of the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Rhode Island, shared some compelling statistics about keeping graduating students in the state at our launch event in Boston. Student who participate in local internships during college are two and a half times more likely to stay in-state after graduation. That’s an eye-popping statistic, especially for a state like Rhode Island that has made retaining young talent a priority. Students who spend more time off campus and getting involved in the community as well as the school itself are also more likely to stay. So NETP wants to help promote bRIdge’s mission of connecting those students to opportunities while they are in school, making them feel like a part of the larger community and encouraging them to remain in Rhode Island post-graduation.
PBN: How do you think the technology industry in the region has evolved over the last 10 years and how will it continue to evolve?
CHISHOLM: Ten years is a lifetime when it comes to technology. We’ve gone from car phones to cell phones to smartphones. In the past ten years alone we’ve gone from floppy disks to cloud computing. We don’t only expect Internet access now where we live or work, we expect it everywhere- in the car, on the bus, in the middle of Block Island or at the Dunk. We’re adopting mobile devices in greater and greater numbers and integrating them into more and more aspects of our personal and professional lives.
People have been talking about the trend of “social, local, mobile.” Technology has expanded markets globally, but it’s also changing how we act locally. Local businesses can create apps or post deals online to drive business. We want to share things with our friends and family in real time, on our phones. A regional focus doesn’t mean abandoning our local strengths and businesses, it means strengthening them by sharing them with a larger audience. That’s where NETP comes in. We work for you. We promote what tech needs from policy in order to grow and flourish.