Tech cocktail: a drink and some business

Monday, October 4, 2010

It's 6:30 on a work night and the District's tech enthusiasts have only begun to pour into Slaviya, a spacious bar and restaurant wedged among the myriad hangouts in the city's popular Adams Morgan neighborhood.

Within an hour the crowd has swollen shoulder-to-shoulder and many attendees have redeemed the first of two drink vouchers included with admission to Tech Cocktail, the night's event.

Designed as a showcase for entrepreneurs with fledgling companies to tout, the event brings together the technologically astute, start-up veterans, investors and those just looking to stay connected. Former AOLer Frank Gruber was one of the event's founders in 2006 and continues to coordinate it in cities around the country.

Wednesday's Tech Cocktail was the first of two entrepreneurial socials last week. Just 24 hours later, some from the same crowd and many others gathered at U Street's Town Danceboutique nightclub for Ignite DC. Attendees listened as 16 presenters, including business owners, lawyers and artists, gave five-minute talks on topics of their choice.

Jared Goralnick, founder of the e-mail company AwayFind, helped bring Ignite to the District in March 2009. Thursday's event was based around the presenters' visions for the future. Predictions included a day when computer chips are imbedded in ears and eyeballs, people stay connected through a universal social network, and technology renders lines at stores and airports completely obsolete.

Matt Fellowes, chief executive of HelloWallet, a District-based personal finance software company, spoke of a future when financial literacy and advice will be deemed as valuable as health care and made available to all segments of society.

None of the speakers made formal business proposals or openly sought funding; Goralnick said the goal is to swap ideas and bring people together. "People get to spread their message, and not just within these walls," he said. "It's a good place to find support."

At Tech Cocktail, the eight companies set up stations and were eager to explain the details of their ventures. Among the burgeoning businesses were:

-- Bethesda-based SeniorChecked launched its Web site Sept. 20. It aims to curtail senior citizen fraud by weeding out service providers with unscrupulous pasts. The site features a national listing of plumbers, accountants, home-care nurses and others who pay SeniorChecked to run independent background checks for everything from old lawsuits to sexual offenses. Chief executive Chris Spanos and three colleagues left AOL Local in December 2009 and began the venture a few months later.

-- Great Falls-based TrafficTalk offers a new form of information hotline with live traffic reports. But rather than a robotic voice, the tips come from fellow drivers just a few miles up the road. Through a mobile phone app or by simply dialing in, the service will use location software to connect you with nearby motorists who can share the latest traffic conditions.

The company launched as TrafficFlex several years ago, but a change in leadership ushered in a new name and renewed drive, said Steve Stern, one of the founders and head of marketing. The company must now contend with hands-free driving laws, though, and every image portrays the driver sporting his or her Bluetooth headset.

-- Baltimore-based Replyz is trying to shape the future of Internet search by making it more social. Rather than plugging a term into Google, the company pairs a user's question with someone on Twitter who can help answer it.

-- Brian Lustig usually represents other tech companies through his public relations firm, but on Wednesday he and Jeremy Floam were hyping their own endeavor, FANgrotto. The Web site allows sports memorabilia fanatics to post videos displaying their collections and links to auction sites, such as eBay.

-- Also at Tech Cocktail were political news site and social network NewPolitick; Web content manager Pagelime; online product review aggregator Klaggle; and, an online platform for volunteers and community organizations.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company