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The Download: Case sees change in region's reliance on government

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By Steven Overly
Monday, November 22, 2010

By Steven Overly

When former AOL chief Steve Case and others built the Internet company 25 years ago, the Washington region was largely populated by big contractors and companies selling to the federal government. But times have changed a lot since then, the technology mogul said last week.

"It's always going to be home of the nation's capital but the nice thing is that the companies that are emerging now are really less about selling to the government and more about creating an interesting product that can be sold worldwide," Case said.

Case and Federal Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra addressed a gathering of several dozen local venture capitalists and entrepreneurs Friday afternoon to cap the first ever National Entrepreneurship Week.

The Obama administration initiative was designed to highlight the role of entrepreneurs in keeping the United States competitive in a global economy. Case now co-chairs the Commerce Department's recently formed National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

Chopra said the Obama administration has tried to make the White House more entrepreneur-friendly. It has made data more accessible online and engaged the private sector on ways to tackle issues, such as cybersecurity and health care technology, he said.

But many of the remarks circled back to the local community, one Case continues to be involved in through his investment firm and stake in such local companies such as coupon purveyor LivingSocial and personal finance firm HelloWallet, which hosted the talk at its District office.

"We really need to think like a region," Case said. "People start thinking about I'm in Northern Virginia, you're in Southern Maryland, and you're in D.C. almost like they're different markets, and I think we miss an opportunity."

Attendees said they were encouraged by the government's embrace of entrepreneurs, many of whom depend on the government for tax credits, grants and other assistance to get ventures off the ground.

"The reality is when things work well, government can be a great partner," said Asher Epstein, managing director of the University of Maryland's Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship. "The challenge is, where do you get the ball rolling and keep the ball rolling to make sure the right hand knows what the left hand is doing?"

A BIG IDEA

Clay Johnson doesn't like the term "incubator," but that's basically what he's creating. When Big Window Labs opens early next month, it will help three fledgling entrepreneurs grow ideas into companies.


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