Arlington Economic Development establishes entrepreneur-in-residence program

January 27, 2013

Arlington Economic Development plans to introduce an entrepreneur-in-residence program that will provide budding busi­ness­peo­ple with a place to seek answers to questions about getting a new venture off the ground.

Agency officials said the move aims to make their services more appealing to the region’s growing start-up community, which some have said will help boost the local economy at a time when the region is feeling the effects of a slowdown in federal spending.

“We wanted to focus on the fact that a lot of start-ups don’t self-identify as a small-business owner,” said Jennifer Ives, director of the business investment group.

“So if they aren’t taking advantage of the resources available to small-business owners, let’s make sure they take advantage of programs for entrepreneurs that are identified that way,” she added.

The agency has selected Will Fuentes and Cary Scott, executives at local inventory management upstart Lemur Retail, to serve as the program’s first resident entrepreneurs. The pair will hold meetings or take phone calls on Mondays and Fridays, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., about topics that range from securing venture capital to finding co-founders.

The effort comes as local jurisdictions compete to become hubs of entrepreneurship.

Since Mayor Vincent Gray took office, the District’s economic development office has sought to make the city more hospitable for technology entrepreneurs, hoping to capi­tal­ize on their inclination to live and work in hip urban corridors.

Across the border in Maryland, legislators approved Gov. Martin O’Malley’s ambitious plan to invest millions of state dollars in start-ups through private venture capital firms and state-managed funds.

Virginia, too, has a number of initiatives. The Northern Virginia Technology Council, for instance, has a long-standing enterpreneurship effort, with programs focused on start-ups.

Ives said the county’s entrepreneur-in-residence program builds on other initiatives already under way at Arlington Economic Development, including its 10-year-old BizLaunch program.

That endeavor provides small-business owners and start-up founders with information on starting a business, such as writing a business plan, obtaining permits, marketing products and securing financing.

“We’re not starting from scratch,” Ives said. “We’re adding in a service that we feel increases our availability and support for entrepreneurial community.”

Fuentes expects the biggest benefit may be providing aspiring entrepreneurs with a place to get started. The region’s technology and entrepreneurial community, albeit expanding, is smaller than other cities, and can be insular at times.

“If you’re not inside the D.C. tech scene, more than likely you don’t know about the D.C. tech scene, to be honest with you,” Fuentes said. “That alone will be a huge value to someone, to say these groups exist. I also plan on sharing some of the big mistakes I made along the way.”

Such as?

“Not realizing the amount of dedicated time that it actually takes to gain traction,” he said. “I think a lot of entrepreneurs come into this thinking, ‘I’ve got this great idea, it’s going to get bought tomorrow.’ That’s very rare. You’re going to have to dedicate time. An idea is just an idea.”

Steven Overly covers the business of technology, biotechnology and venture capital in the Washington region for The Washington Post and its weekly Capital Business publication. In that capacity, he has written about start-up struggles, investment trends and major drug discoveries.
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