The Download: For some city employees, a crash course in entrepreneurship

District officials have been working to court the city’s burgeoning technology sector by revamping tax incentives and helping to create co-working spaces, but a small group of city employees took a decidedly more hands-on approach earlier this month.

The group participated in a Startup Weekend competition that had entrepreneurs create new business ventures aimed at solving problems facing the federal and local governments.

The District team set to work on Business One Stop, an online portal where local businesses could input all of the information needed to register and license a business in the District. The site also provides information about incentive programs, job training and other city resources.

“That’s something that we not only get feedback [on] pretty regularly from our clients ... but it’s also something that we hear from different jurisdictions,” said Ted Archer, strategic analyst in the D.C. Department of Small and Local Business Development. “Being able to tackle that challenge is something that impacts a lot of people.”

The format of Startup Weekend may be the antithesis of what many expect from government, given its reputation for slow-moving bureaucracy. Entrepreneurs are given just 54 hours to turn a business idea into a viable venture, quickly navigating any obstacles that crop up along the way.

Business One Stop placed third in the competition and team members said they will continue to hone the product to see if it’s something the city might actually implement. The team also included staff from the Office of the Chief Technology Officer and Office of the Deputy Mayor for Economic Development.

“Having that kind of focused environment where you have a singular business challenge really highlights what we can get done in a short amount of time when there’s that kind of focus,” said Brendon Miller, the small and local business development department’s public affairs director.

More deals

The daily deal industry has seen consolidation in the past year or so as many small sites fizzle out and others combine to form a larger operation.

Still, two District-based discount distributors have started in the past week, both targeting the same demographic: wealthy gay men.

The Daily Hookup will feature discounts on items that range from underwear to vacations in Spain, all curated by the site’s members. The site was originally piloted last year, but fell dormant until last week.

Co-founder John Stubbs said the site also boasts an altruistic mission, donating a portion of its profits to support LGBT charities and causes.

DirectMale also made its debut last week with high-ticket products, such as custom suits, that are chosen for a subscriber base of well-educated 25- to 45-year-olds with higher-than-average salaries, said founder Andrew Isen.

Both sites buck the daily deal model by making the discounts available for an extended period and distributing the same deals to a national audience.

But the sites’ approach is not necessarily unique. Many deal sites have cropped up to cater to specific audiences, such as parents, social do-gooders or home-décor enthusiasts.

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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