From SOPA to CISPA, legislation is playing an increasingly large role in the technology world.

Sitting at that intersection is Engine, an advocacy organization that’s helping to give startups a voice when it comes to creating policies that shape their industries. The organization rose to prominence earlier this year when it became one of the loudest voices against SOPA, the proposed anti-piracy legislation that galvanized the technology world.

I sat down with Engine founder Michael McGeary on Friday to discuss the presidential election, how legislation shapes startups, and how Google is different from a minivan maker.

VentureBeat: Immigration policy is not the first thing that comes to mind when we’re talking startups, but it’s something you focus on. How does it fit into your mission? 

In the Valley, you’ve got people who want to start businesses who weren’t born here, and you’ve got small companies that want to hire people who can’t get a visa. Fixing immigration policy is about expanding the visa pool and keeping the minds that were educated in our universities here starting businesses and working for startups.

Above: Engine Advocacy co-founder Michael McGeary

VB: Is this the sort of issue that the presidential candidates have responded to so far?

Because the issues that we in the startup world face don’t have a really broad appeal, sometimes it’s hard to pin down and give a partisan answer to the sort of non-partisan things we focus on.

Broadly, though, there has to be a deeper understanding from the government about how Google is different from Ford and GM and Caterpillar.

VB: Let’s get into that. How is Google fundamentally different from a company like Ford?

It’s pretty simple. What Facebook and Google build are things that others can take and build their own products on top of. Technology companies give lots more people opportunities to build the kinds of businesses that they want. You don’t build on top of a mini van.

VB: Which is why you don’t want to stifle innovation with bad policy. 

Exactly. That was the whole danger with SOPA. A free and open Internet is really the baseline for all the things that we do. Without it, there’s no innovation, without innovation there’s no startups, and without startups there’s no job growth. As Clay Shirky says, the Internet means never having to ask permission to be creative and to start something.

VB: How does New York factor into all of this?

What New York has is that it’s not just the startup community. It’s a big city, so there are tons of people here that do other things. San Francisco is great at channeling startup energy, but it doesn’t plug as well into things like the financial services community and fashion world.

When communities intermingle, it fuels even better startup growth because you just get better ideas flowing. New York is on par with San Francisco — they’re the big boys in the clubhouse.

Photo: Flickr/David Paul Ohmer