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ICYMI: Startup Founders Describe Critical Role of Digital Tools in Entrepreneurship

· February 2, 2023

Testimonials from startup founders at a virtual event hosted by the CCIA Research Center and Engine shined a light on the critical role of free and low-cost digital tools in the startup ecosystem, reinforcing findings from a new CCIA-Engine study that show that 100% of surveyed startups rely on affordable digital tools & services to start their businesses. Most notably, the founders expressed concern that if free and low-cost digital tools became unavailable to startups as a result of pending legislation that may force larger firms to structurally separate integrated services and raise costs for services, startups like theirs without large amounts of seed capital would never be able to bring innovative ideas to market.

The live event featured startup founders Sedale Turbovsky (OpenGrants), Joshe Ordonez (Airpals), and Patrick Utz (Abstract) as panelists, while Nathan Lindfors (Engine) moderated.

The founders described their experience building businesses from the ground up and detailed the ways in which free and low-cost digital tools and services provided their ventures with a crucial foundational infrastructure for implementing business models, gaining traction, and acquiring customers. 

When asked about the implications of the newly-released report, which concludes that cost-inducing or prescriptive regulations against leading digital service providers could cost startups $3,000 per employee per year, panelists noted the following potential consequences: 

Patrick Utz (Co-Founder & CEO, Abstract):

“It would have been practically impossible [to start a business]…we started Abstract as an Engineering thesis project out of college, so we really had no money at all to put into anything. The fact that all the tools we used initially to design code and build that first prototype was all free…if it wasn’t free, at least initially, we would have never made anything.” 

“…we didn’t raise venture capital funds until we had a product with people using it. We would have never had a product with people using it if it weren’t for those free initial trials of cloud hosting tools, messaging, etc.”

Joshe Ordonez (Founder & CEO, Airpals): 

“[Free digital tools] make making mistakes as cheap as possible and, as you validate the idea and the product with paying customers- because you need people with skin in the game- take their feedback, because it’s free feedback.”

Sedale Turbovsky (Founder & CEO, OpenGrants): 

“…if you have less people building solutions and solving problems, you’re not going to fix as many things and you’re probably going to miss out on some really incredible innovation.”

“I think the extent that we can continue to bring those barriers to access down, we’re gonna see better solutions. We’re gonna do things like feed the world and solve climate change. And if we start tracking the other direction, things are just gonna get awful and worse and we’re not gonna fix things.”

Watch the full event here, and check out the full report: “Tools to Compete: Lower Costs, More Resources, and the Symbiosis of the Tech Ecosystem.


New technologies are constantly emerging that promise to change our lives for the better. These disruptive technologies give us an increase in choice, make technologies more accessible, make things more affordable, and give consumers a voice. And the pace of innovation has only quickened in recent years, as the Internet has enabled a wave of new, inter-connected devices that have benefited consumers around the world, seemingly in all aspects of their lives. Preserving an innovation-friendly market is, therefore, tantamount not only to businesses but society at large.