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When Will DC Be The Innovation Capital?

National Tech

Lobbyists and lawyers used to get all the love from DC government. And then a chance DC Tech Meetup two years ago changed everything


Peter Corbett’s DC Tech Meetup, which now boasts 9,000 members, sparked DC Mayor Vincent Gray to pay more attention to the swelling number of tech companies calling DC home. 1776 cofounder Evan Burfield (middle) says the vision for creating a dominant tech ecosystem is decades away. That was one of many points made Thursday morning at Bisnow’s Washington DC: America’s Innovation Capital event, presented with 1776 and Challenge Cup, and moderated by Arent Fox partner Jon Bouker (right). So what needs to happen to make DC more innovative? People of wealth need to get into the investing game; 100 super human entrepreneurs need to come to the region a year and stay; people working in government contracting need to work at startups; and DC, Virginia, and Maryland need to have a secret war for tech companies.


Track Maven founder and Acceleprise partner Allen Gannett (left) says over a dozen DC tech companies have moved to Virginia, lured by the state’s seed fund at CIT. DC started a $1M tech fund to invest $25k to $250k in companies that stay in the city for “a while.” Wingate Hughes founding principal Gavin Daniels, an architect for some of the city’s tech startups, says the attraction of DC is how livable it is. (Walking to work is unheard of in Gavin’s hometown of Houston.) Being able to randomly bump into fellow tech founders is so much more productive than trying to set up coffee dates. Peter and Allen had a recent bump-in and walked and talked a few city blocks about CEO issues. 


Revolution Ventures director David Hall (left) says tech companies need to be insulated and allowed to build their teams in the region. And when they’re ready to seek funding, David says he’ll help them seek it from Silicon Valley and Boston if need be. DC deputy mayor Victor Hoskins says growing DC's innovation community is just getting started even though it may seem like a slow process to tech people. The tech fund is a big step for policymakers, considering “investing in tech is like going to the moon for these guys,” Victor says. The panel’s parting advice for budding entrepreneurs: Whatever problem you want to solve, get embedded in that community; find solutions to existing problems; focus on the mission; and remember to eat and sleep.