The new breed of people who launch high-tech companies in Greater Washington is clustering, Lydia DePillis says, "in the densest, buzziest parts of the city: Gallery Place, around U Street, in Dupont Circle, and Georgetown."
In her "Housing Complex" feature in Washington City Paper, DePillis describes a geographical area that one techie calls "the arac of innovation."
Even though their work is by definition almost entirely virtual, it turns out small tech startups crave company. It’s a lonely existence in the early stages, and sharing office space or just hitting the same coffee shops can be the only way to escape crippling isolation. Meanwhile, these entrepreneurial types rarely have cars—or the time to drive them to some office park in McLean [Virginia].
All of which is very good news for the District: The city is now a magnet for young creative people, and small startups that stand to make a lot of money in the future have an allegiance to the place where they were founded. Still, that’s a fragile ecosystem, in need of careful nurturing. The pull of Silicon Valley is hard to resist.
“It’s a matter of making sure that people stay here and never leave,” Corbett says.
What are the benefits of having everybody in one place, anyway? It’s pretty simple: Clusters of sufficient density and mass create their own gravitational pull. At some point, the rest of the world—specifically the part of the world that has lots of capital to invest—has to realize you exist.
Some parts of DC are not popular with this crowd, DePillis observes:
In surveying the local startup scene, [entrepreneur Collin] Gutman found a lot of demand for affordable space. But the young entrepreneurs—overwhelmingly white and male—aren’t willing to take a chance on more marginal areas where rents might be cheaper. Nascent plans for workspace in Ivy City, around Gallaudet University, were shelved. “When you have a bunch of affluent young entrepreneurs walking around with laptops, crime becomes an issue,” Band explains.
The startuppy appetite for risk, it seems, only goes so far.
What's been needed, she writes, is:
a big warehouse where lots of startup types might filter through during the day, paying some rent for the privilege. New York City, for example, has a 20,000 square foot space in the Flatiron District called General Assembly, fostering a class of 16 startups and hosting programs and events for anyone who wants to participate. A D.C.-based advertising agency, the David All Group, launched something like that when they grew too big for their offices on New York Avenue and 12th Street NW—starting this summer, they’ve invited four young companies to set up shop at the newly-christened “DAGpad” in exchange for a certain number of hours of contracting work, in a kind of barter system.