By Steve Winter, Senior Vice President, Sage Communications
Last year at SXSW, the Washington, D.C., Economic Partnership drew national attention for its ongoing mission to develop the burgeoning D.C., technology community. With such luminaries as Mayor Muriel Bowser and Startup America chairman Steve Case on hand to champion the city’s commitment to entrepreneurship, folks who visited the WE|DC House across the street from the Austin Convention Center left town with little doubt that Washington, D.C., was fast becoming a hotbed of startup innovation.
Does that mean that D.C. simply sat on its laurels this time around?
Not a chance in the world.
Back again for a second go-‘round, the D.C. Economic Partnership again hosted the WE|DC House with a full line of programming that included startup breakfasts, government sessions and panel discussions, a seminar on the technology ecosystem, a filmmakers brunch and even a launch party for Monumental Sports to unveil their new sports media platform.
But most important of all, the WE|DC House showcased startups.
On Sunday afternoon, more than 20 D.C.-based entrepreneurs staffed tabletop displays as part of the WE|DC Startup Showcase and Job Fair which gave these local companies a chance to herald their products alongside their company missions, while attempting to attract employees and even potential funders and donors.
“The DC Startup Showcase features emerging companies in the tech and social goods space,” said Erica Moore, manager of tech and entrepreneurship for the Partnership. “They are doing some remarkable things; they are all based in the District and they’re all changing the world. They’re here looking for talent, looking for funding and looking for customers.
“And we’re here to support those efforts. One way we do that is through this sort of activation but we also support them through a mentorship program back in D.C.,” she said.
For those who were staffing tables, the process appears to be working.
“We have been around for a year and a half but we are definitely still in startup mode,” said Mien Patterson, co-founder and CEO of WritingPoint, an online educational tool that tutors students as they write. “We are still building and doing this part-time because we think it’s really important that we deliver a product that is helpful to our students. Here at SXSW, we are seeking both funding and schools that want to pilot our product and program.”
According to Patterson, the role if the Partnership in her company’s development is critical. “While were starting out we had no funding and no resources, so any help from the city is incredibly important. This startup event has been wonderful for us. It didn’t cost us anything to be here and its giving us exposure, like talking to the media.
“It’s really priceless.”
For companies like Patterson’s there is most definitely a light at the end of the tunnel. One need only stroll across Trinity Street to the SXSW Trade Show to encounter hundreds of companies that have successfully made the transition from innovator to industry luminary; including two that vocally point to D.C.’s startup support system for having played a major role in their success.
Tripp Brockway is the sales manager of TrackMaven, a Thomas Circle-based company that provides analytics across all form of communication — social media, earned media, even blogs, email, web traffic, SEO and other channels – to allow users to understand what’s working and what’s not as part of their overall communication plans. For Brockway, there are huge benefits to their geographic location. “Doing business in Washington has been amazing,” he said. “There are a lot of very talented people in D.C. and a lot of people very excited about building a tech community here. When we started two-and-a-half years ago, we were eight people. We’re now 90, essentially in our sixth office. We’ve experienced very fast growth with a wonderful team, and it’s been a great deal of fun, which is why I love my job.”
Just a few miles away in Rockville, Paymen Taei, founder and CEO of Visme, a company that provides an online platform that allows users to easily and creatively produce high-end infographics and presentations from a visual concept, has a similar story to tell. “Being so close to D.C., we draw a lot of talent from the city but we’ve also attracted people from outside Washington who see where we are located and want to become a part of a vibrant and fast growing organization in an environment that embraces technology,” he said. “We’re fortunate that the D.C. area and Montgomery County are especially so business friendly. They’ve made it easy for us to grow over the past three years.” And grow they have! According to Taei, Visme has 400,000 users in 60 countries.
Clearly the Washington metropolitan area has laid a path for its boldest and bravest, a fact that is most certainly not lost on other communities. Philadelphia, in particular, has not only noticed, but they have actually followed in Washington’s footsteps. “We came to SXSW and saw a lot of other regions here – countries like Mexico, Argentina and Brazil, even cities like Chicago and Washington, D.C., all talking about why people should move to those cities and build their businesses,” said Yuval Yarden, program director of the Philly Startup Leaders program also known as Amplify Philly. “If we’re expecting the same results as these other cities, we realized that we were going to have to do the same thing, so we essentially followed their model. This year at SXSW, we brought 30 organizations and more than 200 people to Austin to tell the story that Philly really is a tech and innovation hub with amazing universities, incredible hospital systems and an outstanding culture of supporting community members.”
So, do we sit here and blame our neighbors to the north from adapting our model?
Nah. After all, imitation truly is the highest form of flattery.
SXSW runs from March 11 to March 20.