Washington, DC has been known as the political capital of the world for quite some time, but with the resurgence of startups like Speek, Dashboard and the new 1776 Campus in the heart of DC, the way people are looking at DC and startups has changed. Danny Boice, CTO of Speek tells the Startup Nerd what has changed and what makes DC a great place to start and grow a business.
Five years ago, the startup climate in Washington, DC was basically nonexistent. Aside from a couple of moderately active angel investment groups and a second-rate co-working space, DC was not what you’d call an incubator for entrepreneurship. Many people know DC as the birthplace of powerhouses like LivingSocial and AddThis, but those types of startups were few and far between in a city made primarily of defense contractors and government consultants. Having done a 180 degree turn, DC is now a hotbed for innovation and investment.
Startups need money and office space, and five years ago there was very little of either to be had. But then the Center for Innovative Technology started getting serious as a seed investor in the area and shortly after Fortify Ventures launched. NextGen Angels, the self-proclaimed most entrepreneur friendly angel group in the world, was created in 2013, and Mayor Vincent Gray has made a campaign out of turning DC into a startup hub. Similarly, Fairfax and Arlington counties in Virginia have started streaming money into the startup community through economic development offices and co-working spaces like UberOffices.
In addition to Fortify, DC is home to several incubators and co-working spaces including Acceleprise and 1776, which opened its doors to over 100 startups just a few months ago. Speek is fortunate to be able to work out of AOL’s Fishbowl Labs. So in other words, people started showing up and making resources and money available to startups in DC.
All of these developments have made the community more cohesive. Virginia, Maryland and DC used considered themselves separate startup worlds, but there is now a growing sense that all three are part of DC tech, a change that has helped strengthen the startup ecosystem in the area.
How Has This Helped Speek?
We love that Speek can call DC home. In 2012, when Speek was born, 500 Startups out of Silicon Valley was our first investor. But because we were on the opposite coast, we struggled to not feel like outsiders. But now we have so many resources to draw on in our hometown. Speek’s advisory board and most of our investors now are DC based. It feels great to support and BE supported by a thriving startup community.
What Does This Mean For DC’s Future?
Big things. Forbes just named us one of the world’s top four tech cities to watch (next to London, Tel Aviv and Hong Kong). It’s a great place to be an entrepreneur right now. The tech community in Washington DC is tight-knit. The DC Tech Facebook page is full of exciting news and really supportive comments. Everyone congratulates everyone and MEANS it. With that support also comes a healthy dose of competition. Speek is participating in the Wall Street Journal Startup Of The Year competition along with three other startups from the area. We all have great products we believe in, and healthy competition keeps us humble.
DC has made great strides in the last five years and is now an exciting and supportive place to start and grow a business. We are starting to be recognized as a hotbed of entrepreneurship and technological innovation, and money and talent want to be here.