Nine months ago, Karim Hardane helped launch an on-
demand shipping app in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Thousands of miles away, Neil du Preez was working on a transportation start-up in Cape Town, South Africa, while Jason Wang was developing sensors in Beijing that tell drivers how efficiently their cars are running.
This week, all three are making their first trip to the United States, where they’ll showcase their start-ups, meet with investors and compete for investments. But they are not headed to Silicon Valley. Or New York, or Boston.
They’re coming to Washington.
A D.C. business incubator called 1776 on Friday kicked off its Challenge Festival, the culmination of a months-long search of the world’s most-promising and ambitious start-ups in highly regulated sectors such as education and health care. Consisting of a week full of panels, parties and networking events at embassies and other venues across the city, the festival leads up to the final round of a pitch tournament next Saturday at the Chamber of Commerce.
“It’s a chance for us to show some of the things that make D.C. unique for start-ups,” Donna Harris, one of the founders of 1776 and organizers of the festival, said in an interview this week at the group’s headquarters in Washington. More than 5,000 people have registered to attend some or all of the events.
“By next week, we’ll all be completely fried,” she said.
It’s a wonder they aren’t already. Over the past six months, 1776’s leadership team has traveled to 16 cities around the world (eight in the United States and eight abroad), hosting competitions and selecting a winner in each of four categories — energy, education, health care and smart cities. This week, more than 100 entrepreneurs representing the 64 finalists will meet with industry and government leaders and vie for capital from local investors.
The Washington region’s representatives include Ethical Electric, which sells electricity from solar and wind farms; Dorsata, which helps doctors share information among health systems; EduCannon, which helps teachers create interactive learning videos; and RideScout, an app that compares prices of various ground transportation options.
They’ll compete against, for example, a German company that shows electric-car drivers where to find a charging station, a California firm that runs a loyalty program for charity work, and an Israeli company that helps you rent your parking space to other drivers.
“What was most striking was how remarkably similar the start-up communities have become in each city,” said Evan Burfield, another 1776 founder.
“The start-up model and culture has become unbelievably globalized and consistent around the world,” he said. “Everyone is learning from everyone else so quickly.”
In addition to the competition, 1776 will host events every day next week intended to educate entrepreneurs about the latest developments in early-stage financing, public policy and social entrepreneurship. The competition was funded in part by a $180,000 grant from the District, which also helped fund the creation of 1776.
Capital Business is The Post’s weekly publication focusing on the region’s business community. For more entrepreneurship news, so to www.washingtonpost.com/onsmallbusiness.