April 16, 2016
I recently read Jonathan Aberman's piece in The Washington Post, “Our identity question – What exactly is ‘D.C. Tech?'”. There was no real opinion to extract from the piece, and – worse – the entire thing felt like mere clickbait. The points I agreed on were either history lessons or plain information – things you can find in various DC Tech guides.
One thing that struck me a bit odd is how he interviewed 100 entrepreneurs – no mention of community members, organizers, organizations or attendees of DC tech events. As the cliche goes, it takes a village (or a District in this case). There's only so much a company can do on its own without community support. Do you think ThatStartup, LLC could be on its way to an IPO if it wasn’t for the existing community support, local development talent, local media attention or availability to established entrepreneurs? It takes an ecosystem to construct a community, not just entrepreneurs.
A Background on DC Tech
DC tech has worn different faces over the decades as highlighted in Aberman's piece. After Mario Marino's departure from the District, Peter Corbett and his crew began filling the void left by Marino. Our community has seen several revivals over the decades, but the startup ecosystem really started to accelerate within the past 3 years. This very brief history in D.C. tech would help build up to what we now call “DC Tech” proper.
Although some folks consider DC tech to be contained within the district, if you tally the number of employees who work and live around/in the Beltway, you'll find that D.C. proper relies on nearby Maryland and Virginia to support itself. Regardless of which publication you read, you'll see journalists highlight companies, entrepreneurs, events and others across the entire DMV (D.C.-Maryland-Virginia metro area, focusing on central Maryland and northern Virginia).
The Realities of DC Tech
Although DC tech is still in its toddler stage, the Silicon District has created a name for itself in several areas, such as being the best place for women in tech, consistently ranking in top 20 startup cities, and climbing towards the top as one of the best cities for people of color.
In terms of industries, D.C. definitely has its strengths and weaknesses. For instance, we are not suited for mass consumer products, like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Yo, etc., unless it is a food-related startup, such as Spotluck, Gallery, Juicery, etc. Our strengths reside in the B2B arena, typically in software, government, politics, cyber security and enterprise, as well as industries like healthcare, finance and education.
I think that agreeing on DC tech's competencies and associations would help unite the region and communicate those things to outsiders. We need to agree that we don’t need to be a Silicon Valley, Silicon District or other variation of the tetravalent metalloid; rather, we should look at our strengths – as the tech mecca for women and for people of color.
As for a stronger definition, maybe this would work:
“DC tech” is a technology hub comprised of DC, Virginia and Maryland that focuses on business-to-business services, and is the best town for gender and cultural progression.
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