Mayor-Elect Gray: Please Make DC Awesome For Entrepreneurs
I'd like to use this blog post to argue for incoming mayor Gray and the DC Council to make DC the most entrepreneur-friendly place in the US. That means tax breaks, access to government contracts, support for innovation zones, aggressive access to angel funding, but mostly it just means convincing high profile entrepreneurs from other areas to make the DC area their home. It shouldn't be that hard -- many SF-based entrepreneurs are from the DC area originally and have family here. You just have to give them good reasons to come back to DC.
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I'm looking forward to coming back to DC for a few weeks. I'll be working out of PointAbout's DC offices. My brother Sam is already back in DC for a bit, working out of Facebook's DC office (he joked with me yesterday that PointAbout's presence in DC is bigger than Facebook's! I told him we'll hold on to that title for as long as we can ;)
The response from people I've told I'll be coming back to DC is amazing. Several people have told me I'm missed here in DC. Thanks guys for the show of support, and I had no idea anyone would even notice I was gone!
Several awesome things have happened in DC since I left over the summer. One is the continued growth and prominence of Elias' blog, AwesomeDC. Elias' blog is, well, awesome. If you're an entrepreneur in DC, it's a great blog to subscribe to. And the other great entrepreneurial resource is Proudly Made in DC, by Michael Mayernick and crew, which already has bios of 75+ DC-based companies, and Michael says he has dozens more that have submitted for inclusion.
I'm super jazzed about this highlighting of entrepreneurial activity in DC. I've long fought for entrepreneurship in DC, from as far back as the Netpreneur days. I recently moved to San Francisco to open an SF office for AppMakr, which is a app-creation platform made by PointAbout, a DC-based company, and I'm not shy about comparing DC to SF. In fact, there's just no comparison - being an entrepreneur in SF is easy, while being one in DC is hard. Especially if you want to get funding.
And here in DC, we have to be honest with ourselves. The entrepreneurial community is nascent compared to SF. In SF you can go to an event like this one and be literally hanging out with Ev Williams, the CEO of Twitter, or this one, with the GM of mobile for Groupon, or this one, with Nicholas Negroponte, or this one with Matt Cohler, or this one, with Adeo Ressi, Drew Houston and Dave McClure, or this one with Jason Calacanis... you get the idea. And those were just a drop in the bucket; a few events I was able to attend and capture; there are literally dozens of events like this every night in SF.
So that's why I say it's hard to be an entrepreneur in DC. You can't just get an office in a space that's also housing Mashable, Rapportive, VentureHacks, CoTweet, and dozens of other hot startups. Don't get me wrong, it's not like nothing entrepreneurial happens in DC, just that it's like pushing a piece of rope uphill, and honestly if you're 100% focused on the success of your business, and making it be as big as it possibly can be, then you have to admit to yourself that you're handicapping yourself by not moving to SF.
Having said that, and since I'm from DC, I'd really like to see the DC entrepreneurial and startup culture grow in DC. And so it's great seeing AwesomeDC and ProudlyMadeInDC succeed, and props to Peter Corbett and iStrategy Labs as well as well-known DC-based companies like Living Social, Clearspring, Webs.com and others, for keeping the startup dream alive and kicking in DC. I hope the folks over at NVTC and other stodgy DC-based business institutions see this innovation and can get past themselves enough to encourage it. I mean truly encourage it. With funding to bring high profile speakers to DC. With people whose jobs are solely to make DC more entrepreneur-friendly. Let's face reality for what it is -- being an entrepreneur in DC is challenging -- and let's work to make DC an attractive place for entrepreneurs that plays on DC's strengths.
I challenge Mayor Fenty and Mayor-elect Gray to make DC the most entreprenuer and startup-friendly zone in the US.
Make DC attractive for angel investors to take chances on DC-based companies. Has anyone in the "DC office for fostering innovation" (which doesn't even exist, to my knowledge) ever reached out to the top entrepreneurs and funders in Silicon Valley to ask them what they'd need to see for DC to be relevant for them? The mayor needs to spend less time traveling on international trade missions and try a 'trade mission' out to Silicon Valley for a change. I can provide a list of 100 people that should be visited on that trip. People that, if DC can get them to care, will be able to influence and shape the entrepreneurial experience we all have in DC. People that will bring more startup funding to DC. And that would be good for everyone in DC, not just the entrepreneurs.
Just let me know when you're ready for the list, Mr. Mayor.