The Download: D.C. Week comes to an end


D.C. Week 2012 attendees at Artisphere in Arlington. Organizers have decided to end the annual technology event. (Jeffrey MacMillan/JEFFREY MACMILLAN FOR WASHINGTON POST)

The organizers behind Digital Capital Week are pulling the plug on the annual festival for technology enthusiasts in Washington after three years.

The event was designed to bring the region’s small and often fragmented community of technologists and creative types together in one place, replicating the collaborative environment that exists more naturally in technology hubs like Silicon Valley.

D.C. Week was co-created by iStrategyLabs chief executive Peter Corbett and Tech Cocktail co-founders Jen Consalvo and Frank Gruber. Early discussions are under way for a different event that might attract a wider audience, but organizers said the specifics are far from concrete.

“We feel like today there doesn’t need to be a D.C. Week,” Corbett said. “We think the ecosystem has very much matured.”

The local scene certainly doesn’t lack for events. Monthly D.C. Tech Meetups, which Corbett also helps organize, draw hundreds of attendees from around the region. Start-up accelerators such as The Fort and, more recently, 1776 also serve as a gathering place for local entrepreneurs.

And more than just the community has grown up over the past three years. The organizers also have their own burgeoning businesses to tend to. Corbett’s iStrategyLabs has more than doubled in size to 25 people in the past year, he said. Tech Cocktail hosts start-up events across North America, and Gruber and Consalvo now spend much of their time in Las Vegas.

“It maybe would be fine and cool and fun to do it again, but we never created it just to have fun,” Corbett said. “We need to re-envision what we do going forward.”

Those plans may include a more internationally focused event that partners with local embassies to bring upstarts from around the world to Washington. Such an event would happen in the spring of 2014 at the earliest, Corbett said.

“D.C. Week was always build the plane while you fly it. Figure out what people want and let’s make it as we go,” Corbett said. “With this, I think we’re very focused on building the highest quality experience you can imagine. We’re thinking through every piece of the puzzle ... and having it funded before we create it.”

Young angels

Entrepreneurs on the hunt for seed-stage capital have a new group of investors to pitch to. NextGen Angels is a club of Washington busi­ness­peo­ple ages 40 and under who want to funnel money to fledgling ventures.

It’s the brainchild of Dan Mindus, the investment director at the Center for Innovative Technology . The group held its first meeting in September, and Mindus said last week it is preparing to make its first investment as a collective.

NextGen members technically invest their money as individuals, though a start-up that garners money from 10 or more members is deemed a NextGen portfolio company. That means all the members are obligated to open their business networks to executives and lend the company a hand, Mindus said.

“I started talking to a number of people around town who I believed might be interested in angel investing and were either doing it on their own or weren’t doing it at all, even if they had an interest,” Mindus said.

NextGen Angels counts 60 members to date, a number that continues to grow, and Mindus said applicants are admitted based on their ability to invest and what they bring to the group. About one in three applicants are accepted, Mindus said.

“There’s tremendous interest in entrepreneurship in our region,” Mindus said. “There are a very large number of people who have extra cash who want to be involved.”

The group includes successful serial entrepreneurs such as Hemang Gahdia, whose start-up Condaptive was acquired in 2011 by Baltimore-based Millennial Media; Haroon Mokhtarzada, who sold Silver Spring-based Webs.com in 2011; and Sean Glass, co-founder of Higher One, a financial services firm that went public in 2010.

But Washington’s pockets of wealth are deeper outside the technology sector, with industries such as law, consulting and real estate producing a bevy of potential investors. For example, the group also includes Pillsbury attorney Steven Kaplan, LivingSocial’s General Manager of Entertainment Alex Michael and Gannett Vice President of Corporate Development Tom Cox.

“We’re certainly not Silicon Valley. That said, there’s a lot of wealth in this region. Some of it has been created by traditional entrepreneurs who have sold their businesses, but there are plenty of people who have wealth for other reasons,” Mindus said.

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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