(Photo via Twitter)
As the year draws to a close we’re looking back at all that has happened in #dctech — this post is part of our 2016 year in review series. See the full list here.
Since 2009, our mission at Village Capital has been to invest in the best early-stage companies solving real-world problems. As a year-end reflection, here are some reasons that I’m glad our home base is here in Washington, D.C.
D.C.’s commitment to inclusive entrepreneurship
The presidential election surprised nearly everyone in this city – even Republicans. Together with Brexit, it sent a message to elites across the globe: that millions of people feel left out in a rapidly-changing world.
D.C.’s tech community happens to be better than most at recognizing this. Unlike Silicon Valley, which tends to exacerbate inequality through echo chambers, D.C. is more collaborative and inclusive than other cities, including the recent release of the District’s first-ever Inclusive Innovation Report.
In 2016 we launched a new initiative, VilCap Communities, to help ecosystem leaders across the world invest using our unique peer-review process. In our pilot year, 26 cities have committed to invest more than $1 million in local companies through peer-review. We have one important rule: every community needs to focus on one sector or cultural strength that gives them a natural competitive advantage. Honolulu, Hawaii, is running a program for food and agriculture entrepreneurs. Cincinnati’s program builds on their long history of water innovation. Chicago’s WiSTEM program is running a program for female entrepreneurs.
In D.C., we’re partnering with Groundwork Ventures to run a program for entrepreneurs of color in the District. The average wealth of a white family is eight times that of a Black family. We’re excited to work with Jason Towns of Groundwork to change people’s image on what an entrepreneur looks like here in D.C.
The ability to embrace the government as a partner in innovation
In his bestseller The Third Wave, AOL cofounder Steve Case (who now runs D.C. venture capital firm Revolution) argues that the next generation of entrepreneurs will need to solve complex problems — in sector like health and education — that will require working closely with government.
Though we run programs across the U.S., we’ve made a point of using our home base in D.C. to help our entrepreneurs engage with government. For our FinTech US program, run in partnership with PayPal, we brought financial services technology entrepreneurs to D.C., where they were able to meet with officials from the White House, Treasury, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Department of Commerce in an effort to help new ideas partner with regulators, rather than be squashed or confused by them.
We also focused on the future of work, which touches on a number of sectors — education, people operations and financial services. This year we held multiple events to bring together entrepreneurs and policymakers thinking about the rise of the “gig economy.” In May we partnered with Jean Case and Senator Mark Warner for a valuable conversation that continued online, and in November we held a forum with the Hitachi Foundation with tech companies that are changing everything from how companies hire — recruiting based on potential, not on resume — to how workers can carry benefits across employers. In each of these cases, the D.C. location was critical to having the right people in the room.
The reminder that most of America is between the coasts
Finally, America has always been at its strongest when we are harnessing the strength of our diversity. But the reality is that too often, we ignore the great ideas that aren’t directly in front of us. 78 percent of venture capital goes to just three states (California, Massachusetts and New York), less than 7 percent goes to women, and less than 1 percent goes to people of color.
Village Capital has long been a partner on Revolution’s “Rise of the Rest” bus tour, and in 2016 we continued to explore the best ideas across America. This fall we held events across Virginia with the week-long Virginia Velocity Tour and convened tech leaders from Appalachia for a Rural Entrepreneurship Summit. On our travels we met a lot of people who felt disconnected, but we also saw inspiring developments.
On the tour of Virginia, we saw startups blooming in places like Blacksburg, where Virginia Tech is producing young engineering talent, and Hampton Roads, where business, health care and government leaders are coming together to build a biotechnology hub. In Appalachia, we met startups teaching former coal miners how to code, corporations filling tech jobs through “rural insourcing” and partnerships like SOAR-Kentucky and Launch Tennessee that are investing in tech ecosystems in the Heartland.
Blacksburg is only a four-hour drive from D.C.; Chattanooga, Tennessee, is a two-hour flight. We’re excited to continue to look beyond this city’s borders – as well as within them – for the next big thing.
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