D.C. start-up hosts inaugural events for entrepreneurial ‘millennials’


WASHINGTON, DC. JAN..10, 2013. Former H St. NE, store is being fixed up for Inaugural youth events, by Peter Chang and Brandon Hill of the No Kings Collective, and Meg Kelly and Patrick Dowd from the Millennial Trains Project, in Washington, DC. (Jeffrey MacMillan/JEFFREY MACMILLAN FOR CAPITAL BUSINESS)

District-based entrepreneur Patrick Dowd was disappointed when he heard this year’s presidential inauguration would forgo a Youth Ball.

With estimates of visitors to the city for the weekend ranging from 600,000 to 800,000, Dowd was particularly worried about the millennials — adults generally between 18 and 34 years old — who might be looking for activities.

So he decided to organize his own inauguration events at a warehouse in Northeast Washington — called “M Central,” meant to serve as a base camp for entrepreneurial-minded millennials visiting the capital. The warehouse, at 700 H St. NE and operated by local arts organization No Kings Collective, can hold up to 2,000 people, he said, and “all are welcome.”

“We’re trying to create something that’s the most acceptable, creative space for people to come through out the weekend,” he said.

Dowd runs a nonprofit start-up called the Millennial Trains Project that takes delegations of applicants on 10-day, cross-continental train rides to learn about entre­pre­neur­ship. His group is partnering with the No Kings Collective and the New America Foundation, a nonprofit public policy institute based in the District, to organize the weekend’s mostly free programming.

The schedule is loosely tied to the presidential festivities, but includes other events. For instance, the weekend will kick off Friday with an art gallery opening, curated by No Kings Collective, featuring D.C. artists’ work centering around the theme of trains — an obvious link to Dowd’s pet project.

Saturday will feature the “Millennial Ideas Forum,” a day-long series of speakers from political, entrepreneurial, artistic and academic backgrounds. Some of their discussions, like White House Liaison to Young Americans Ronnie Cho’s, are to relate directly to the White House’s official theme for inauguration — “Faith in America’s Future” — while others, such as a discussion with Oscar Salazar, founder of the smartphone dispatch sedan service Uber, is to focus on the idea of disruptive business models.

Author and former Washington Post writer Liza Mundy is to discuss themes from her recent book, “The Richer Sex.” She plans to speak about the future of America in the context of millennial women, who she said are rapidly out-achieving men in college, and who feel social pressures to pursue relationships with men of equal education levels.

“I’m urging women to really think about what the criteria are if they want to have a life partner. Do they really want someone as high achieving?” Mundy said.

D.C. entrepreneur Justin Vitarello, owner food truck Fojol Bros., is scheduled to speak on the subject of “passion.” He said he hopes to inspire others to follow their entrepreneurial passion as he did, but also hopes to network with entrepreneurs from outside the region who share his support for President Obama.

“It’s a good opportunity for people because a lot of really driven, deliberate people came here when Obama got elected. What fueled their fire working on the campaign could just as easily fuel their fire when they’re working on a business,” he said.

To facilitate this networking, Dowd said he also plans to randomly select a member of the audience to participate in each panel, allowing them to ask questions and give opinions on whatever topics are being discussed regardless of their expertise. “This is sort of what we’re creating it for — enterprising and civic minded young people, who believe that America’s best days are not behind it,” he said.

After a day of speakers, guests can attend M Central’s own inaugural ball for $75 a ticket (proceeds go toward the cost of programming and to the Millennial Trains Project).

Sunday’s plans include a brunch and film screening (the choice of movie is still being finalized), and Monday comes the main event, a day-long inaugural watch party.

Mohana Ravindranath covers IT and small business for the Washington Post and its weekly Capital Business publication.
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