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With heaps of praise from city officials and local and national entrepreneurs, the tech startup campus/school/accelerator 1776 launched this morning in its space at 1133 15th St. NW.
The 12th-floor, 15,000-square-foot space isn’t exactly ready for move-in—-its future occupants are currently working in temporary space on the eighth floor—-but already, the project is being touted as transformational in its ambitions to connect entrepreneurs with D.C. power players in areas like health care and education policy.
“It’s absolutely amazing to see the growth and the energy that’s come into this city in the last several years,” 1776 co-founders Evan Burfield said at the launch. “Despite all this progress, we continue to punch beneath our weight.”
Burfield’s partner in the endeavor, Donna Harris, said the city is currently lacking a proper tech anchor. “D.C. does not have ‘Place X,'” she said. “The campus that you’re sitting in, we hope will become that place.”
The tech campus will open in early March, says Burfield, followed by a news and events program to highlight the work of D.C. startups, a school to train students and veterans in the skills to launch a company, and finally an accelerator to help companies scale up by connecting them with key players in the arenas that surround the downtown office: the White House, K Street, and the Capitol.
Mayor Vince Gray, who highlighted the growing D.C. tech scene in his State of the District speech last night, said that tech helps reduce D.C.’s “dependency on the federal government” and that he wants it to be a central part of his legacy as mayor.
“I want to be able to look back and say I was part of making the tech sector grow in this city,” he said, noting that ventures like 1776 help address poverty by generating revenue and can craft solutions to the problems that can arise from the city’s rapid population growth.
Gray also confirmed that the city is giving 1776 a $200,000 grant to assist its development. David Zipper, who leads the business development team in the office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development, says that the grant comes with conditions: 1776 must remain in the city for five years, offer 20 percent of the seats in the startup school to unemployed D.C. residents, allow D.C. youth to access the space once a quarter, and partner with other incubators in the city like The Hive and Affinity Lab.
Zipper says the scope of 1776 sets it apart from these other ventures. “It’s a whole other level,” he says. “The sheer size is a differentiator. Here, you actually have space to do things like a start-up school.”
Rather than simply mimicking successful tech hubs in places like Silicon Valley, Zipper says, 1776 seeks to capitalize on D.C.’s main advantage: the presence of the government, policy advocates, union leaders, and nonprofits. “There’s an angle to 1776 that no other city can match,” he says.
Burfield and Harris have an option to expand to up to 60,000 square feet on four floors in the 15th Street building, which they hope to do within two years. Burfield also said he hopes the startup school will eventually be located at ground level. Several companies have already signed on with 1776, most notably Fortify Ventures, which has brought its accelerator, The Fort, to the temporary 8th-floor space and will be moving upstairs soon.
One techie present, graphic artist Mariesa Dale, is strongly considering a move to 1776, given the advantages offered by proximity to other entrepreneurs. “There’s more knowledge,” says Dale, who says she works with international clients and is impressed by 1776’s partnership with several foreign embassies. “There’s people that are willing to give you the education that you need, and the city’s backing that.”