Seeking to boost the profile of Ballston, organizers of the town’s new business improvement district are rolling out a competition meant to give entrepreneurs a boost as well as a potential shot at pitching to business maven Ted Leonsis.
The Ballston Business Improvement District, funded with a tax on the locale’s commercial properties, is meant to cement an identity for the neighborhood. It is Arlington County’s third BID, following Rosslyn and Crystal City.
With the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the National Science Foundation, a Virginia Tech research institute as well as companies such as CACI International and Accenture’s federal unit among its constituents, the BID is seeking to paint Ballston as the place “where minds meet.”
“We needed to create an identity for Ballston,” said Tina Leone, chief executive of the BID.
A key part of the campaign is the “LaunchPad Challenge,” which the BID will kick off this week. BID officials plan to solicit applications from entrepreneurs in industries as diverse as education, food, health and engineering. A BID-run panel will select 10 applicants, who will be assigned mentors and provided assistance through the end of the year, according to Leone.
The challenge will culminate with a chance to pitch to Leonsis, the majority owner of the Washington Wizards and Capitals and an active member of the area’s venture capital community. Three of the 10 program participants will be selected to present their ideas to Leonsis, who could then provide funding or other support.
Ballston, where the Capitals practice, has “become a home for us,” Leonsis said. “There are great entrepreneurs and great businesses waiting to be started. So when this came together right in our hometown ... I thought this was a fantastic effort to hook up with.”
The Ballston BID will kick off the program Thursday at the now-vacant Chevy’s restaurant space in the Ballston Mall. The organization is also planning to host other programming, such as networking lunches and panels through which successful companies or government institutions in Ballston could share their work, said Leone.
The BID, which began last year, has a five-year commitment from the county and is funded with a dedicated tax on commercial properties of .045 cents for every $100 of assessed value. In the next fiscal year, the group will have a budget of about $1.5 million.
Marc McCauley, director of Arlington Economic Development’s real estate development group, said Ballston’s BID is taking a different approach from those of Crystal City and Rosslyn, which have focused on making the areas more friendly after work hours.
Ballston is “actually our most balanced urban village,” McCauley said, noting that it’s roughly split between residential and commercial use.