Editor’s note: Washington is a center of innovation. If only it wasn’t a secret

October 27, 2013

When it comes to innovation, the Washington area doesn’t get its proper due.

We actually invent quite a lot around here, but much of it is technology that no one feels particularly free to talk about, unless they happen to be living in a Russian airport somewhere.

What we make, our special sauce, is cyber stuff.

Over the years, this region has produced a steady stream of companies that toil in relative obscurity creating real breakthroughs. How do I know? The paydays. I’ve known people who became multimillionaires seemingly overnight for developing virus protection software and “information assurance” systems, whatever that means.

Not all are invisible. When Cisco plunked down $2.7 billion for a Columbia concern called Sourcefire, I at least knew of the company. I couldn’t tell you how its software worked, but I certainly was familiar with its calendars. Each month was illustrated with a different cartoon of a colorful pig, sporting a huge snout, part of a branding campaign for Sourcefire’s Snort detection software.

Most tech companies are not so brand conscious; they shy away from talking about what they actually do and send out releases about their participation in a charity golf tournament. Keeping a low profile is difficult to build an economic development slogan around.

But we should keep trying. Ever since Fort Meade, home to the National Security Agency, became the headquarters of the newly formed U.S. Cyber Command in 2010, and then was joined a year later by the Defense Information Systems Agency, which handles the Pentagon’s IT and communications needs, we’ve seen a boom in cyber.

Staff writer Marjorie Censer recently reported that in 2005, the base had just over 33,500 employees. Today, it has about 57,000, more than double the number of workers at the Pentagon. And that’s just on the base; there are tens of thousands more in the cyber centers and offices that have popped up all around.

The industry’s ubiquitousness around here is one reason we decided to again devote a single issue to the subject. Our regular readers will probably find the format familiar; we retained our traditional news sections and features in an attempt to show how all sectors are touched by this technology.

If you are a newcomer to our weekly newspaper, consider subscribing by calling 202-334-6100 or go to washingtonpost.com/capitalbusiness/subscribe. Please let us know what you think of the coverage, and if you have a cyber company doing innovative things, don’t keep it a secret.

Dan Beyers is the founding editor of Capital Business, The Washington Post’s go-to source for news about the region’s business community.
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