WASHINGTON, D.C.: In a large warehouse-type office, software coders work on apps, as “angel” investors and mentors help budding entrepreneurs figure out strategy for their startups.
This technology “incubator” called 1776 in downtown Washington has some 200 startup firms, and many more seeking to get in to the collaborative workspace which provides desks, connectivity, technical assistance and importantly, connections for those with a dream or a mobile app.
A few years ago, the notion of Silicon Valley on the Potomac might have evoked ridicule. But the capital city in recent years has become home to thousands of entrepreneurs and a tech ecosystem supporting them.
“The ingredients we need for startups are right in our backyard,” says Donna Harris, co-founder of 1776, which opened last April and quickly filled up.
With 15,000 square feet (1,400 square meters) in the downtown K Street corridor, 1776 accepts about half those applying for membership in the tech incubator.
“It’s not just capital that people need. They need connections,” Harris said.
By some measures, the District of Columbia has a startup scene which is bursting at the seams.
A survey last year by Fast Company magazine found the district had a higher number of venture-funded startups per capita than any of the 50 US states.
PriceWaterhouseCoopers ranked the city in the top 10 for business investment in the fourth quarter, with more than half of the $300 million going into software and IT services.
“The startup scene in DC is vibrant, it’s growing,” says Christopher Etesse, chief executive of FlatWorld Knowledge, a startup for digital textbooks and online educational services, which has grown to 32 people in the 1776 offices and is now preparing to move into its own offices.
Etesse says Washington “has some of the best universities and deep technical talent,” and notes that “we’re able to attract that talent but we don’t have as much competition as New York City or Silicon Valley.”
Mrim Boutla relocated to Washington from Indiana and moved into the 1776 for her e-learning and job placement startup saying the city “has both the nonprofit, the profit and government sectors that can interact and intersect in social innovation.”
She said the shared workspace puts her in contact with “a great fellowship of changemakers” and “helps me stay energized in the lonely journey of being an entrepreneur.”
Some startups in the city are also flocking to warehouse-style shared workspace offered by WeWork, which has nearly filled up its office location in the Chinatown section with some 200 startups in technology and other sectors.
WeWork, which operates in several US cities and is expanding abroad, is opening two more locations in Washington capable of hosting as many as 1,000 startups.
“When you join WeWork you join the whole network,” said Carl Pierre, who manages the Washington offices. “So you can arrange for a conference in New York, you can spend a week in San Francisco and work out of our space there,”