The Download: D.C. tech community asks city for broader development policies

Several members of the D.C. technology community sent a letter to city officials on Friday that outlines three ways in which economic development initiatives could better bolster the burgeoning tech sector.

The District has been courting technology companies more since Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) took office. Most recently, the D.C. Council is set to decide on a $32.5 million tax credit for daily deal purveyor LivingSocial that would keep its headquarters in the city.

While the letter applauds those efforts, it also calls upon city officials, including Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development Victor Hoskins, to craft policies that benefit more than just the city’s most notable tech firm.

“As the D.C. government’s investment strategy in the technology sector matures, we would endorse an even more aggressive strategy that supports a broader array of companies at multiple stages of growth,” the letter said.

The letter, which was drafted by bloggers from Greater Greater Washington and InTheCapital, garnered signatures from the founders of at least eight local start-ups.

The signatories were Dave Sandrowitz, local angel investor, Jonathan Lunardi, CEO and co-founder of VeteranCentral, Stephanie Hay, co-founder of FastCustomer, Andrew Mason, co-founder of Eventstir, Michael Goldstein, principal at Endeavor DC, Ram Singh, CEO of 10io, Daniel Kleinman, founder of MegaPixel Software, Navroop Mitter, co-founder and CEO of Gryphn Corp., and Lindsey Mask, founder of LadiesDC.
It offers the following suggestions:

Gray should sublease commercial office space in the city to young tech firms at below-market rates, helping to reduce the overhead expenses that can often prove cost prohibitive.

(The city has, it should be noted, helped to create a small co-working space at Martin Luther King Jr. Library after a similar space, called GeekEasy, closed its doors in April.)

City-owned land, such as Poplar Point or St. Elizabeths, could be used to create a designated tech hub, similar to the major development effort in New York City known as Innovation Island.

Lastly, the city should encourage major industries in the region, such as hospitality or law, to invest in innovative information technology through business development programs.

In a response released Sunday night, Hoskins described efforts his office has taken to support the tech sector, including assigning a full-time staff member to oversee its development and extending a $100,000 grant to bring The Fort, a start-up accelerator, to the District.

“I appreciate your thoughtful recommendations and look forward to working with you to catalyze the growth of the District’s tech sector,” Hoskins wrote.

overlys@washpost.com

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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