Washington, D.C. economic development officials have extended a $200,000 grant to the creators behind 1776, a gathering place for entrepreneurs in the District that will provide rooms for start-up offices, community events and educational sessions.
The 15,000-square-foot venue at 1133 15th St. NW also will house Fortify.vc, an early-stage investment group and start-up incubator that established an office in the District last year after receiving a $100,000 grant of its own from city officials.
The 1776 facility is the brainchild of entrepreneurship enthusiasts Donna Harris and Evan Burfield and comes at a time when the Washington region is giving rise to a creative class of technologists looking to start new companies.
As a result, the District’s entrepreneurial community has sought in recent years to shake up the city’s staid image as the home of the federal government while also capitalizing on the perks that come from such close proximity to policy wonks and regulators.
“The overarching vision for 1776 is really to create a platform for connecting start-ups from around the world that are doing disruptive things in sectors that tend to be regulated, so energy, health, education, transportation, government,” said Burfield, who also serves as chairman of Startup D.C. and founder of Reston-based Synteractive, a technology reseller and business consultancy.
Start-ups can rent office space at 1776 if they prefer to work in a collaborative atmosphere or need a D.C. outpost without the expense of an independent office. Partnerships with local universities and embassies to provide entrepreneurship and business resources are in the works. The venue will also play host to local technology events and classes on topics like social marketing.
“We envision [the classes] being much more informal around getting the practical hands-on skills that someone would need, in a very short time, to then transition into a start-up and be functional from day one,” said Harris, who works as a managing director at the Startup America Partnership.
The city’s financial support reflects an effort by the city officials to nurture the local technology sector, which Mayor Vincent Gray (D) has said on multiple occasions could become a source of jobs and tax revenue as the federal government curtails spending.
“I am proud to sponsor 1776, which will catalyze our efforts to diversify the District’s economy,”Gray said in prepared remarks. “The commitment of such illustrious local, national, and international stakeholders demonstrates that the District of Columbia is a vibrant hub of innovation that welcomes entrepreneurs who want to change the world.”
The details of the deal will be made public at a press conference this morning. But as a condition of receiving the grant, 1776 must remain in the District for at least five years. It must also set aside 20 percent of seats in classes for District residents and offer quarterly tours of the space to D.C. youth, among other conditions.
“They basically had a funding gap they needed up front,” said David Zipper, the city’s director of business development and strategy. “They had a sustainable operating model, but they needed some funds to support the build-out cost.”
The top floor of the building where 1776 will open next month is now just a vast empty space encircled by windows overlooking the business district below. The walls stand unpainted, wires dangle from the ceiling and the floor is a rough, concrete slab.
But what the space lacks in looks, Harris and Burfield make up in vision. Plans for 1776 include a kitchen and cafe, outfitted with vintage-inspired furniture. Eschewing a more industrial aesthetic, the venue will prominently feature reclaimed wood and a floor streaked with faded burgundy stripes.
The duo commissioned Maggie O’Neill to design the space. Her studio is behind the interiors at such Washington restaurants as Lincoln, SEI and Panache.
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