The Washington Post

The Download: chooses District for its business accelerator

Early stage investor will open the doors to a new business incubator program today for as many as 15 start-ups, choosing office space in the District after a $100,000 grant from the mayor’s office lured the firm away from neighboring Arlington.

The city’s economic development office has made a more concerted effort in recent months to engage the technology community in the District, which has become a burgeoning hub for start-ups with little involvement to date from city officials.

The deal came together in a matter of weeks. Fortify Founding Partner Jonathon Perrelli met with officials at the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development just a few days before Christmas to discuss a deal.

The terms of the grant require Fortify and its business accelerator, called The Fort, to operate in the District for at least the next four years. Fortify’s annual event where start-ups pitch investors for money, called Distilled Intelligence, will now be held in the District.

“This is really sort of a seed investment to make sure we have a pipeline of young, vibrant tech companies. As they grow, they’re going to grow here in D.C.,” said David Zipper, the city’s director of business development and strategy.

District Mayor Vincent Gray told an audience during the Digital Capital Week last November that the city wants more technology companies. (Steven Overly/Capital Business)

Fortify had already selected space in Arlington and was very near to signing an agreement when organizers approached the mayor’s office about opportunities in the District.

“[The grant] gave us the ability to be in the right place and have the city support,” Perrelli said.

Jennifer Ives, director of business investment at Arlington Economic Development, confirmed that Fortify had been close to signing a deal in Virginia, and said she was disappointed to lose the accelerator.

“We would have loved for them to come to Arlington, but of course at the last minute if someone is going to offer $100,000 ... that’s understandable,” Ives said. “We’ve been doing a lot of work with accelerators ... You’ll find in the coming weeks we’ll have some announcements in this area.”

The incubator will occupy the fifth floor at 1627 K St. NW. The space already has that entrepreneurial vibe: Visitors enter a lobby lit with neon blue lights. Banks of desks divide one large open work room. There’s a galley kitchen, conference room and still-to-be-furnished lounge.

The city is home to a growing number of co-working spaces. But The Fort will offer more direct involvement in the participating companies, both financially and operationally. Perrelli said each upstart will receive a $25,000 investment, as well as access to many volunteer mentors.

“We want to give them TLC and [access to] our network to drive them to succeed,” Perrelli said. “We hope the next AOL, LivingSocial, HelloWallet or comes from here.”

Steven Overly is a national reporter covering federal technology and energy policy with a focus on Capitol Hill. He previously covered the business of technology, biotechnology and venture capital.



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