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To Grow What No One Has Grown Before

The center's resources might pale in comparison to the setup at H&R Block, but the technology running at East River and five other sites around the District has already helped 850 people who earn less than $35,0000 annually claim $1.3 million in tax refunds.

The program is operated by the D.C. Cash Campaign, a collaboration of national foundations, local community development centers and NPower Greater DC Region, an organization focused on helping nonprofits use technology.

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NPower, originally called Technology Works for Good, was founded in 1999 with funding from the AOL Foundation, Microsoft Corp. and others. The goal is to provide inexpensive technology services to the nonprofit sector, which often does not have the money or expertise to use high-tech equipment as effectively as corporations.

Some of the tax-preparation sites slated to be used by D.C. Cash were still using dial-up Internet connections, for instance, and others had outdated computers that couldn't handle the tax-filing software provided by the Internal Revenue Service. NPower's task was to assess the needs of each site, find cost-effective but functional technology and train each of the volunteers on the online filing system. And during the past few months, one of NPower's staffers has been on call at all times, in case there is a technical glitch at one of the sites.

"It's not about the technology, it's about what the technology can do," said Julie Chapman, president of NPower DC. "The technology should be like having the lights on -- it shouldn't be something you have to worry about."


"Jack [Biddle] and I laugh that everything is for sale at the right price, but it's one of those rare times when we don't have anything that looks terminal [and has to be sold]. So we're actually getting some sleep at night," said E. Rogers Novak Jr., co-founder of Novak Biddle Venture Partners. The Bethesda venture capital firm, which held its annual meeting for limited partners on Tuesday, has had several big wins in the last year, including Matrics Inc., a Rockville radio frequency identification firm that was acquired for $230 million; N.E.W. Customer Service Cos., a Dulles warranty firm that was recapitalized at $370 million; and Blackboard Inc. and InPhonic Inc., two District firms that held initial public offerings.

Ellen McCarthy writes about the local tech scene every Thursday. Her e-mail address is mccarthye@washpost.com.

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