In 1999, the digital capital saw big fish America Online--in its deal-a-day frenzy--swallow Netscape, MovieFone and MapQuest.com, among others. The Potomac Knowledgeway shut down, but numerous venture funds and "angel" networks opened up. And 1999 marked a more subtle change: Players in other technology centers--California, Boston and New York--wised up to the area, sending venture capitalists and lawyers to scout out the start-up culture and open East Coast offices.
It's hard to tell exactly how many companies formed in Washington last year, but anecdotally, I hear about a new tech business almost every day.
As for next year, well, we all love predictions. So I surveyed a dozen or so of the most connected people in the local tech community, and asked them what people, trends and companies we should watch for in 2000.
There will be more stars.
"Everyone of ability is an Internet rock star or technology athlete," says Art Marks in the Reston office of venture capital firm New Enterprise Associates.
A few that starred on several lists:
* Mark Warner, Alexandria-based Columbia Capital managing director and likely candidate for governor of Virginia in 2001. "He will make the run for governor and be the first of ours to take such an office," says local investor and philanthropist Mario Morino, at a time when tech companies are becoming increasingly political.
* Michael Saylor, 34, founder and chief executive of MicroStrategy Inc. of Vienna. After AOL head Steve Case, Saylor is the second local self-made tech billionaire to hit the national stage, points out John Backus of Draper Atlantic in Reston. Saylor will be even more high-profile in 2000, starting with ads during the Super Bowl to help make MicroStrategy more of a household name. And the party-loving Saylor will take tech festivities to a new level, renting out FedEx Field for his Super Bowl bash.
"He is inspiring young entrepreneurs to think big and his cult following grows each day," says Mark Ein, chief executive of the D.C-based venture incubator Venturehouse Group.
* Steve Walker of Steve Walker & Associates in Glenwood because he's investing in and advising the hottest start-ups in the region.
* John Sidgmore, 48, vice chairman of MCI WorldCom Inc. Several people suggested that the telecom dealmaker may have some new tricks up his sleeve. "He hasn't even started yet," says Jeff Osborn, a former vice president of UUNet, which is now part of the MCI WorldCom empire.
* Daniel Akerson, the "Next" guy. The former chief executive of Nextel Communications Inc. has moved his new telecom company, Nextlink Communications Inc., to the area from Seattle.
* Esther Smith, who started The Washington Business Journal and The Washington Post Co.'s Washington Technology. Smith is at the "forefront of women in technology in the region," says angel networker John May.
* What Morino calls "the Greek-Cuban mafia" of AOL executive and Capitals owner Ted Leonsis, Deutsche Banc Alex. Brown's George Stamas (who plans to open an office in Tysons Corner) and Reston-based Proxicom chief executive Raul Fernandez. "Leonsis because he will do something to leverage his media background and sports investments, Stamas because he will set up an important beachhead with DB Alex. Brown that will have a big impact, and Fernandez because Proxicom and he will continue to emerge as a key player in Net services," says Morino.
* Second-generation companies. Former AOLers, MCIers, and UUnetters, especially, are starting new Washington businesses and are armed with the connections and experience of their former jobs. Not to mention the money they made there.
* Wireless Internet access via hand-held devices, a worldwide trend to watch, will have several local key players, including AOL of Dulles, Riverbed Technologies of Vienna, newly public Aether Systems of Owings Mills, Md., and Proxicom, which recently signed a deal with Ericsson.
* More sophisticated ways of identifying ourselves when we are using our wireless devices will be created by companies such as BioNetrix of Vienna. "Your Palm Pilot and cell phone will recognize your familiar thumb, voice and face as soon as you pick them up and ensure against unauthorized use," says Steve Walker.
* A downtown tech revival. "There are a lot of young people who prefer city life both socially and professionally," Ein says. And Washington companies Doceus, Enews.com, Proteus, and city-based incubators such as Ein's and Andrew Stern's VenCatalyst are fueling the buzz.
* Tech companies that focus on the education market are clustering in the area. Watch Tutornet.com of Vienna and VarsityBooks.com, Blackboard and Smarthinking, all based in D.C.
* What May calls "the democratization of capital." More money for good ideas.
* High-tech philanthropy. "You'll see a major effort on Mario Morino's part to help underserved areas," said Northern Virginia Technology Council President Bobbie Kilberg.
* The work to create a human genome map by companies such as Celera Genomics of Rockville will influence the pharmaceutical marketplace and the way medicine is practiced. "Over the long term, it is hard to imagine what will impact us more," says Dyan Brasington, director of the High Technology Council of Maryland.
* The newly public. If the market holds, our watchers expect the next local companies to hit the public markets will be Blackboard, SkyCache, OneSoft, Ultraprise and Corvis. We're waiting for OTG Software, WebMethods, Net2000 and VarsityBooks, which have already filed, to start trading.
* Network Solutions, Motley Fool and Womenconnect.com. Netsol because it's looking for new businesses to go into; the Fool is searching for a new CEO; and Womenconnect because it has hit a crossroads where it is likely to be sold or go public.
* Teknosurf.com, a direct marketing on the Web company that will be interesting to watch in 2000, in part because it has secured the domain name www.advertising.com and will be relaunching in the new year as Advertising.com.
* And of course, AOL. Watchers are looking for the giant to finally do that broadband deal, and wondering how AOL's stock will stand up to free ISP competition. AOL is likely to do more "viral," one-to-one marketing, playing off the instant messaging phenomenon where consumers encourage each other to use the service.
And we'll find out, as it launches its long-awaited television product in 2000, if people will want their AOL TV.
Send tips and tales of the digital capital's local people, deals and events to Shannon Henry at email@example.com.
CAPTION: The tech community's current and future stars: at right, MicroStrategy chief executive Michael Saylor; above, Esther Smith.