Like it or not, the greater Washington region is all about relationships. Our strength as a business community is our interconnections, and our ability to manage the complex interplay between business and policy. Our entrepreneurial community grows businesses through the exchange of information between those two worlds.
In other words, we need to network.
When we do the networking dance well, transactions occur as a result. Once a relationship is established, there is a very good chance it will bear fruit. It might be years from now, or it might be next week, but knowing how to connect with the right people — and be willing to enter into a win-win relationship — inevitably reaps rewards.
Successful networking relies on transparency. Think about how many times you have formed relationships understanding where a person is coming from. We better connect with those who are transparent with us, and who share both their strengths and needs in a candid, open way
You can call this trust. I believe it’s larger than that. I describe it as acknowledgment. By being transparent, you are treating others as respected co-venturers and clearly stating that you value their time. If they choose to engage with you, they know exactly why.
However, here in the greater Washington region, there’s a blurry area where common interests and unspoken goals intersect. Entrepreneurs often sense a conflict as they begin to weigh where to base their start-up. Local governments, landlords, trade and entrepreneurship groups all vie for their attention.
Often lost in these interactions are the questions that entrepreneurs really want answered. Of the three jurisdictions that make up the DMV: D.C., Maryland and Virginia, which location would attract talented employees and offer best quality of life for them? Which jurisdiction would offer the best tax incentives or other logistical advantages?
When offers to help are masked in claims of working in the interest of the entire region, it often creates distrust among the entrepreneurs and those trying to serve them. And that distrust can limit the coordination of resources.
There is no reason for the three jurisdictions in our region to pretend that they don’t have their own best interests at heart. The free market exchange of ideas and economic opportunity drives entrepreneurship. Various groups, businesses and municipalities seeking to curry favor with entrepreneurs should never stop. Far from it. They should compete like crazy to serve entrepreneurs and be the best they can be at promoting their own interests.
But we need a regional organization where entrepreneurs can network and gather resources completely free of those competing interests. We must create a Switzerland of sorts — completely neutral. We need a transparent entity that has as its mission to promote and connect our region’s entrepreneurial and business community, without upside or unrelated economic benefit to the operators.
By creating our own entrepreneurial Switzerland, we allow competing resources to coalesce and break down silos. In so doing, we allow our region’s best innovation support structures to compete as avidly as possible. Competition is good for everyone. Let our entrepreneurs benefit from it through transparency.
Jonathan Aberman is a business owner, entrepreneur and founder of Tandem NSI, an Arlington-based organization that seeks to connect innovators to government agencies. He is host of “Forward Thinking Radio” on SiriusXM, a business and policy program, and lectures at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business.