“These roundtables are a thoughtful look at entrepreneurial ecosystems, which are the relationship between entrepreneurs and their current environments,” Committee spokesman Robert Sawicki said in an e-mail. “Our ultimate goal is to take the ideas that come out of these discussions and use them as the foundation for a major piece of entrepreneurship legislation.”
On Small Business caught up with some of the participants to ask them what the next challenge is for entrepreneurs and what they think Congress should do about it.
Evan Burfield, chairman of Startup DC.
Along with leading the Washington branch of the national Startup America initiative, Burfield is also a serial entrepreneur and the head of Synteractive, a cloud computing and business intelligence company.
The single biggest challenge D.C. start-ups face, according to Burfield, is finding the right talent in order to grow.
Software engineers are in high demand nationally, but Burfield says the D.C. region specifically lacks agile, creative coders who are willing to work at odd hours and for little pay -- at least in the initial years of a start-up’s life. Because of that, many area start-ups can’t hire the types of employees they need, he said.
“Start-ups need people with strong critical thinking abilities, the ability to communicate effectively, and the ability to get things done,” he said. “That’s the single biggest labor market challenge we face today.”
The real-world example:
Burfield likes the solution that the D.C. daily deals company LivingSocial came up with for the lack of quality developers: It trains new ones. LivingSocial partnered with Hungry Academy, a five-month program that pays people while it teaches them to become programmers. The participants get a salary, health insurance during their training and a guaranteed job with LivingSocial at the end. (LivingSocial is led by Tim O’Shaughnessy, who is a son-in-law of The Washington Post Co. chairman Donald E. Graham.)
“They’re setting up an entire training apprenticeship program in how to write code and work in the way that a company like LivingSocial needs,” Burfield said.
Burfield wants more apprenticeship programs. But companies need tax incentives and federal dollars in order to train workers, he said. Rather than simply fund career training for those who become unemployed, he argues the federal government should help companies give eager workers some brand-new coding chops instead.