Trump Plays With A Drone And Meets With Emerging Tech Leaders

President Donald Trump holds a drone with Kespry CEO George Mathew.

Pool / Getty Images

President Donald Trump met with a disparate group of startup founders, venture capitalists and public company executives on Thursday in a gathering that was meant to showcase how his administration will promote emerging technologies and entrepreneurship. In the final event of the White House’s “tech week,” the president cradled a four-propeller flying robot, engaged in a demonstration on 5G internet, and discussed how the government can better regulate and encourage investments in companies building drones, connected devices and web infrastructure.

Fresh from an invigorating 70-minute speech in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, the night before, the president promised that his administration would give the US-based entrepreneurs assembled in the East Room “the competitive advantage” that they needed.

There have been “too many years of excessive government regulation,” said Trump. “We have had some regulation that has been so bad, so out of line, that it has really hurt our country.”

While Trump met with the leaders of Apple, Amazon, and other tech behemoths on Monday to discuss topics such as immigration and modernizing government infrastructure, Thursday’s gathering — organized by the Office of Science and Technology Policy and the US deputy chief technology officer, Michael Kratsios — was intended to be more forward-looking. “[There will be] technological revolutions that could improve every aspect of our lives and create vast new wealth for American workers and families and open up new frontiers in science, medicine and communication,” Trump said.

The attendees of Thursday’s meeting had convened earlier in the day in three separate discussions — one on commercial drones, one on web-connected devices and 5G internet, and a third on financing emerging tech. After closed-door discussions, attendees met with the president for about an hour before he departed — to tweet that he didn’t tape former FBI director James Comey, and to watch over the unveiling of the much-anticipated Senate health care bill.

No drones were flown in the White House.

Participants from the drone industry included Airspace CEO Jaz Banga, PrecisionHawk’s Michael Chasen, AirMap CEO Ben Marcus, and Kespry CEO George Mathew, who showed off one of his company’s robots and an accompanying video to the president. No drones were flown in the White House.

A notable pair of absentees from the drone discussion were Amazon, and Google's parent company Alphabet — two firms that have spent heavily on drone delivery research and development. While both companies were invited, neither sent a representative to Thursday’s emerging tech summit, two people in position to know told BuzzFeed News. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and Alphabet Chairman Eric Schmidt did attend Monday’s American Technology Council meeting.

One person familiar with the companies’ thinking, but who declined to be named, said that with so many events going on in Washington, some firms did not send people to Thursday’s OSTP meeting because it felt like “too many senior execs are being pulled away from their day jobs.”

Spokespeople for Amazon and Google did not return requests for comment.

While venture capital firms including Lightspeed Ventures and New Enterprise Associates attended today’s event at the White House, a number of other prominent Silicon Valley names did not. Sequoia Capital, Accel, Kleiner Perkins, and Y Combinator all skipped out on the event despite having received invites. Spokespeople for all four firms declined to comment, although one person close to Accel noted that the firm had “scheduling conflicts” for the day. Kleiner Perkins sent Chairman John Doerr to Monday’s meeting with Trump and other tech CEOs.

AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson demonstrates the impact of 5G infrastructure on a small city model for President Donald Trump.

Ryan Mac/BuzzFeed News

Also in attendance was 500 Startups' chief operating officer Aman Verjee, who came to the White House despite a colleague’s vocal opposition to the Trump administration. 500 Startups' founder Dave McClure went on a much-publicized, profanity-laced rant following Trump’s election. He explained to BuzzFeed News that the company decided “it would be best to have someone in contact with the administration, even if we generally oppose most of their policies.”

500 Startups “talked it over a lot before we committed,” McClure said in a text message. ”Definitely some strong opinions.”

AT&T President Randall Stephenson, who arrived late to the meeting, also gave Trump a demonstration on the advantages of 5G Internet using a small city model complete with lights. Joined by executives from other companies including T-Mobile, Sprint, and Verizon, Stephenson preached the importance of government support for wireless infrastructure.

And despite heavily criticizing a proposed merger between AT&T and Time Warner just months ago, Trump commended Stephenson’s work, saying that “most companies would have disappeared” under the regulatory environment of his White House predecessor.

Trump also praised Jeff Immelt, who recently announced that he was stepping down as CEO of General Electric after 16 years in the job.

“That’s a long time,” Trump said. “I’ve done deals with that company when you were there.”

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