One of the takeaways from this week’s column is that young tech entrepreneurs—-independent of the federal government, transit-oriented, upwardly-mobile, and even willing to help out with local youth—-are exactly the type of folks the D.C. government should be trying to attract. Especially since it’s a lot easier to get the money and mentorship you need to grow a business in more traditionally tech-oriented places like Silicon Valley, and even Boston, New York, and San Francisco.
So, how’s the city doing? Right now, the tech world’s community builders are less than impressed.
“We have the strong feeling that we’re doing everything we can in spite of government,” says Zvi Band. “If the D.C. government could give us an abandoned school, and hook it up with wireless, it’s one of those things like, why aren’t they doing that?”
Band’s compatriot, Michael Mayernick, thinks a little bit of “flag planting” could help—-designating one or two districts where startups might cluster.
“Entrepreneurs don’t need a part of the city named after themselves,” he says. “But if you have Chinatown, which is where the Chinese people are, you could say ‘also, if you have a tech company and you want to hang out here, that’d be cool.’”
The city’s business development director, David Zipper, is the guy in charge of making sure that techie types want to stay here. Along with international business and federal contracting, the tech sector is one of three areas where the city is focusing its efforts. The real estate issue, though, is not such a simple one to solve. “People always assume that the District has these surplus spaces that are ready to use,” Zipper says.
Still, there are other powerful incentives out there that people just haven’t found out about. Eleven years ago, Councilmember David Catania got legislation passed that reduces personal property and income taxes for tech companies and also includes relocation incentives for new employees. It’s currently called the “New E-Conomy Transformation Act 2000,” but Zipper plans to rename it something more…up-to-date. And make sure people know it exists.
Also, it’s possible that the city doesn’t need to meddle too much; the most powerful communities usually come together without the helping hand of government. Several people I talked to had found that D.C.’s sometimes adverse environment for startups lends them determination.
“The people that I go and meet at the startup events in D.C., they’re making this huge exception,” says Jason Tugman, who’s worked on various projects. “If you’re doing a startup in D.C., it’s because you want so desperately want to do a startup, against all odds, and I think that gives us strength.”