The Mayor of Washington DC was at the city’s startup campus, 1776, last night proclaiming that he wants to make the US capital the technology center of the East Coast. Standing on stage at the incubator’s July 4th party, Vince Gray said his goal is to make Washington DC the envy, even, of Silicon Valley.
That, frankly, is a ridiculous goal, and one that doesn’t even warrant the energy required to shoot it down. Suffice to say that Silicon Valley has a four-decade track record of innovation and multibillion-dollar companies, while DC has an incubator that houses 100 unproven startups.
Where Washington DC’s emerging startup ecosystem does have potential, however, is in forging a community of tech companies that have the ability to operate in highly-regulated sectors, such as education, healthcare, energy, and transport. Those areas, after all, are what 1776 is ostensibly targeting, and, being in the center of Redtape Land, it is better-positioned than most other startup-oriented groups to achieve those goals. Now, the incubator is setting the bar higher for itself by attempting to expand its scope beyond US borders.
Last night, 1776 announced a series of global initiatives set to kick off in 2014, including a startup competition that will take place in 16 international cities – eight of them in the US – and culminate in DC. The goal of the competition, called the Challenge Cup, is to find startups that show exceptional promise in addressing challenges in education, healthcare, energy, and city issues. The Cup, run in conjunction with Tech Cocktail and iStrategyLabs, is being supported with a $180,000 grant from the District of Columbia.
The competition will reach its climax with a week-long festival in DC in May next year that takes the place of DC Week, a 10-day conference that attracted hundreds of of startup and tech folks to the city every year. The festival will attempt to bring together startups, investors, corporates, and policymakers from around the world.
To complement the competition, 1776 also announced an initiative it is calling Startup Federation, through which it will allow members of partner incubators to work at its downtown location while visiting Washington DC and take part in member and mentor exchanges. Topping off the campus’s international vision, it has created a Global Membership Program that lets international startups access its community, content, and connections via live streaming of round tables and workshops.
None of these plays will be enough to make Washington DC the envy of Silicon Valley, or even the tech center of the East Coast. But by turning their focus to the explosion of startup culture outside of the US and attempting to build a bridge between bureaucracy and new businesses, the city and 1776 are at least pushing in an interesting direction.