Picture this: an online resource guide for startup companies and entrepreneurs that lists, on a virtual map, other startup companies and entrepreneurs, as well as large companies (think: Microsoft), in an effort to get people who wouldn’t survive on a desert island without their laptops working together face-to-face.
Welcome to Adam Zuckerman’s Foster.ly, a for-profit LLC based in Washington, D.C., that has appointed itself the task of supporting communication and collaboration among entrepreneurs in Maryland, Virginia and the nation’s capital. The organization does this through what it calls Study Halls, in which groups of 50 people—startup founders, but also accountants, business development folks, lawyers, marketers, partners in venture capital firms—meet at a predetermined location, and then share their skills and expertise with the group.
The idea originated when Zuckerman, a lawyer by training, began holding his office hours inside D.C. coffee shops, roughly a year and a half ago.
“He had friends who worked in the startup space, and he would just hang out at the shop for the day and people would just come and ask questions about anything from legal formation, to raising funding, to everything in between,” says Dov Markowitz, who joined Foster.ly in Decmeber 2011 and serves in an advisory role. “And while people were there, they started coworking—hanging out and helping each other.”
Zuckerman documented these informal sessions in a blog, Foster.ly, the thinking being that people could consult his notes before asking him a question he had already answered. Late last year, after a weekend “hack,” says Markowitz, the blog Zuckerman kept was redesigned into a full-fledged website, which launched, alongside a more formal iteration of the organization, in January this year.
Everyone involved, Markowitz says, is a volunteer—he works two jobs—and the money they make is used for website development and the events Foster.ly sponsors, like the new D.C. TechBreakfast debuting in September, and Study Halls.
Those events are the mainstay of the organization. Markowitz says the premise behind Foster.ly’s efforts is “relationship-building,” not networking. Instead of arbitrarily handing out business cards, the thinking goes, bring entrepreneurs from the Maryland-Virginia-D.C. region to periodic events for the purpose of helping one another out. It’s coworking, sure, but with less emphasis on just sharing space, and a bigger premium placed on what you might learn from the people in the room with you. A crucial piece of that effort is the online guide for entrepreneurship that the Foster.ly team is in the midst of creating.
“We can help with bridging the connection between the regions,” says Markowitz. “The idea [with the guide] is if you’re a startup and you need to find some local resources and local talent, you’ll be able to search by region and city.”
Despite its youth, Foster.ly is already on its way to bridging those connections. In May, Foster.ly put on what should become its most impressive event each year: the Day of Foster.ly. Nearly 500 people met for 12 hours at the Artisphere in Arlington, Virginia, for a day of events, including an entrepreneurship expo, which included bigger startups like Zipcar, media-match and mentor-match sessions for early-stage startups, a massive Study Hall, a speaker series that included former CTO of the U.S. Aneesh Chopra, and an end-of-day party that kicked off at 7 p.m.
“We had the entire place from the opening until when they kicked us out at one in the morning,” says Markowitz.