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MIT brings its mentor model to Washington

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has brought its brains to Washington.

The D.C. Economic Partnership, which encourages business activity in Washington, has invited the MIT Venture Mentoring Service to help goose the local entrepreneurial scene by finding mentors.

“I was trying to find the most successful mentoring model, and everyone led me to MIT,” said Tiffany Thacker, director of business attraction and marketing at the Economic Partnership.

The program uses a team-based mentoring approach, so new ventures will paired with a team of four to five volunteer mentors from the region.

“We went to Boston for an intensive three-day training program at MIT, where we learned how to create the model,” said Thacker, adding that mentors must agree not to invest in or disclose the business ideas to others.

A baboon from Tanzania, is to appear on a new series called “The Secret Life of Predators” on the National Geographic Channel. Baboons eat more meat than any other wild primate. (Skip Hobbie/NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TELEVISION)

Thacker got advice for the program from Eric Burger of the Georgetown Center for Secure Communications. Burger is a former lead mentor with the MIT mentoring program.

Burger, who is a regular at Ralph Terkowitz’s Terk Tech forum, is an MIT grad and an Internet security expert and entrepreneur who co-founded SnowShore Networks in 2000. SnowShore was acquired by Brooktrout in 2004.

Chewing on the TV business

Vegetarians beware. National Geographic Channels is preparing a new television series called “The Secret Life of Predators.”

The four, one-hour shows, which took two years and cost several million dollars to make, will debut in a September simulcast on the National Geographic Channel and Nat Geo Wild.

The program will feature 45 animal species in 12 habitats and in 18 countries.

The program is a gamble. Blue-chip documentaries cost millions and take years to produce, and sometimes they fall flat on ratings. You pay a lot of money to hope the animal does something extraordinary when the cameras are rolling.

David Lyle, chief executive of National Geographic Channels, arrived from Los Angeles two years ago to boost ratings and make the channels a player in the field of nonfiction television.

The channels are headquartered at the society’s headquarters at 17th and M streets NW.

Now boarding

Environmental attorney and real estate investor Gary Silversmith may be embroiled in a feud over the future of the former presidential yacht, the Sequoia. But he’s not letting that get in the way of attracting new business.

The Ritz-Carlton is working with the Sequoia’s owners to rent the 104-foot yacht, starting at $17,000 a night. There are also opportunities to hold staff meetings and retreats for up to 49 people, so business folks can bond like President Nixon did with Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev.

“We are in the business of creating memorable moments,” Elizabeth Mullins, vice president and general manager for Ritz, said in an e-mail.

The yacht is a live show-and-tell right out of the Smithsonian. This is where Harry Truman decided to drop the atomic bomb. Where President Franklin Roosevelt schmoozed with British prime minister Winston Churchill. Where presidential buddies such as Nixon’s best friend Charles “Bebe” Rebozo hung out.

“The business plan is that the Sequoia is the only first-class vessel in Washington, D.C., and a National Historic Landmark,” Silversmith said. “We want it to be exposed to the upscale users in the Washington area. Aligning with the Ritz is a perfect way to do that.”

Silversmith bought the icon from a Norfolk shipyard in 2000, and has spent $3 million refurbishing it over the past four years. He’s now attempting to stave off a financier who is trying to force a sale at a deeply discounted price.

“Although we’ve sued our lender, business continues,” Silversmith said.

Expanding the roster

Monumental Sports & Entertainment Vice Chairman Raul Fernandez last week hosted the initial gathering of the Monumental Business League, which is comprised of season-ticket holders, suite holders and corporate partners who do business with the NHL Capitals, NBA Wizards, WNBA Mystics and the Verizon Center.

More than 175 attended the first of what the MSE Business League envisions as 12 to 18 meetings a year, with seminars on subjects such as social media applied to business, leadership and how to develop a network. For the initial event, Randy Wittman, head coach of the Wizards, provided an insider’s look at how teams prepare for the NBA draft.

The next Business League meeting is a July 12 breakfast at the Kettler Capitals Iceplex, which will include Capitals defenseman and entrepreneur Steven Oleksy (founder of Eastside Elite Hockey) and Capitals Assistant Deneral manager Don Fishman.

Buzz hears:

Amtrak last week unveiled at Union Station a train car painted red, white and blue and with 50 stars to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War. The train car, known as Locomotive 42, will be used on routes around the country, Amtrak said.

Staff writer Marjorie Censer reports the event was also a chance to roll out Amtrak’s goal of making 25 percent of its new hires veterans by 2015. The company said it expects to hire more than 3,000 employees over the next year.

Daniel Boulud’s DBGB Bar & Kitchen signed a contact to put DBGB restaurant at CityCenterDC in downtown Washington, site of the former convention center. CityCenterDC is one of the largest mixed-use developments on the East Coast. Tom Papadopoulos brokered the deal and e-mailed us with the news.

Chuck Rendelman’s FroZenYo yogurt chain signed a 25-unit area development deal to bring stores to Ohio last Friday.

Factoid of the week

400 That’s the number of employees working at Dunkin’ Donuts in the District of Columbia. The donut company last week opened its 17th store in the city.


Thomas Heath is a local business reporter and columnist, writing about entrepreneurs and various companies big and small in the Washington Metropolitan area. Previously, he wrote about the business of sports for The Post’s sports section for most of a decade.



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