A new face in Washington tech circles: former Mayor Adrian Fenty

Jahi Chikwendiu/WASHINGTON POST - Adrian Fenty talks to the media in Washington, D.C.

Former District Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) is wading deeper into the region’s technology and venture capital communities, joining a newly formed seed-stage investment firm as an adviser to foster start-ups and facilitate deals.

Blue Tiger Ventures is the brainchild of Neil Kataria, the chairman of West End-based social media intelligence firm NewBrandAnalytics. The firm will invest between $25,000 and $100,000 in fledgling ventures, he said.

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“You don’t need too much money these days to build your first product and get it out to customers,” Kataria said. “You really don’t. It’s more strategic.”

“If you have a little bit of capital from us, and we can introduce you to customers, prospects and partners ... that really can accelerate a company very fast at an early stage,” he said.

Blue Tiger Ventures joins a growing number of so-called angel investor groups in the region. These are largely networks of wealthy people who fund upstarts individually or as a group.

As of yet, Fenty’s role in the firm is not entirely defined. Kataria said he will bear the title of founding executive adviser. But a contractual position at Palo Alto, Calif.-based venture house Andreesen Horowitz precludes him from acting as a general partner or financier, Fenty said.

Still, Fenty said he will use his connections in the Washington region and beyond to help companies pursue strategic relationships or secure needed capital. It’s a role he has played before.

When Kataria’s NewBrandAnalytics was mulling a move to the West Coast last year, Fenty arranged a breakfast at the Four Seasons Hotel in Georgetown for executives from NewBrandAnalytics with Tony Florence from New Enterprise Associates. That meeting kept the company in the District and local investors sank $20 million into its coffers.

“The whole Blue Tiger investments comes out of that partnership where I help to make strategic contacts, either in the venture or adviser or partner role, for NewBrandAnalytics and some of the other companies I’m involved with,” Fenty said.

Fenty describes his foray into technology as an evolution that began after losing his reelection bid in the District’s Democratic primary two years ago.

One of Fenty’s key — and most heavily criticized— initiatives while in the city’s top office was education reform. That, he thought, would lend itself well to a position helping education technology companies that aim to change the way schools operate and children learn.

He was named an adviser to foreign language software firm Rosetta Stone last February, a month after leaving office, and three months later signed on to help Georgetown upstart EverFi recruit city education systems to use its Web tutorials on personal finance, cyberbullying and other topics.

“So some 21 months out of office, I’ve been able to develop a limited amount of expertise and knowledge with the hope and understanding that I will just keep growing that,” Fenty said. “It’s a very interesting industry to me, and I want to be a part of that.”

Business isn’t foreign to Fenty, though he is a lawyer by training. His family is the long-time owners of Fleet Feet Sports, an athletic shoe and apparel shop in Adams Morgan.

But small business isn’t Fenty’s focus. The unexpected appeal of technology companies has been that they can scale quickly and reach many people in just a short space of time, Fenty said.

“I’ve always been a macro guy. My whole reasoning to get into politics was to help people out on a macro level,” Fenty said. “You don’t need to be a mayor to help people. You can be a social worker or a teacher. But my thought was I always wanted to pass a law or a budget to help thousands of people at one time.”

“The Internet and technology allow you to build business to get to many people ... not by the thousands but by the millions,” he added. “It’s that same thinking — the macro, not the micro — that drives me toward tech.”

But Fenty won’t be shedding politics entirely. He said Kataria was quick to point out that his experience as mayor, and a member of the D.C. Council before that, could lend itself well to tech companies grappling with regulation or trying to sell products to the government.

What’s more, Fenty said there is a more prominent role for the government to play in building up young tech firms. While the government may have limited influence on how investors spend money, he said governments can be sure local tech companies see a slice of their hefty budgets, Fenty said.

Indeed, Fenty’s former foe and current Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) has done just that. His administration has sought to use software and services from some of the city’s tech companies, including, in a somewhat odd twist of fate, Kataria’s NewBrandAnalytics.

“The government can’t tell people how to spend money, but it can make for more fertile ground,” Fenty said.

And many say D.C. is increasingly becoming that fertile ground. Technology companies from a plethora of sectors now call the city home.

“There’s great people coming out of universities and government and private sector who have great ideas that can be supported and nourished, and there’s more than adequate wealth,” Fenty said.

“What there isn’t is a long-standing practice of putting wealth into good ideas and early-stage companies, and helping them blossom.”

 
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