(Photo by Lalita Clozel)
In recent years, D.C has become home to a growing community of entrepreneurs and businesses that are determined to solve the world’s most pressing issues and demands. From homegrown startups to tech giants like Google, Facebook and Twitter proudly opening D.C. outposts, Washington is increasingly part of the national tech conversation.
As our tech community continues to thrive, it’s innovators like Courtney Klein who are determined to create spaces for entrepreneurs who are in the very early stages of launching a startup.
Established in Phoenix, Ariz., in 2012, SEED SPOT is a social enterprise–focused accelerator program that helps “new entrepreneurs take their concepts from idea to scale.” With an alumni base of over 280 entrepreneurs — 49 percent of which are female founders, and 45 percent of which are minority founders — Klein has created a movement that is empowering entrepreneurs to change the world by starting right in their communities.
And with support from consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton, SEED SPOT D.C.’s leading partner, the incubator platform will launch this spring with evening and full-time programs that will give entrepreneurs a deep dive into branding, operations and raising capital for their social enterprises. At the end of the program, participants will have the opportunity to pitch their ideas to an audience of supporters, community members and potential investors.
Technical.ly DC sat down with Klein to discuss why she choose D.C. as the newest home for SEED SPOT, and how the partnership with Booz Allen came to be.
Technical.ly DC: Now that you’re in the District, has anything changed about your decision of making this the new home for SEED SPOT? Are you still excited about launching here?
Courtney Klein: I would say that I’m even more excited. A year ago, it was a lot speculation — but the more conversations we had with the [tech] community, the more we discovered that there is a need and there are social entrepreneurs here in D.C. that don’t have a place to go.
We were looking for a city that had enough density of entrepreneurs, and a community that was big enough in population and expertise to support those entrepreneurs. We were also looking for a community where SEED SPOT could add value. We did not and do not want to come into D.C. as a competitor to any other good work happening here, we want to be a value-add to the ecosystem. In sharing our story with members of the D.C. tech community, the early stage at which we catch entrepreneurs was appealing to our partners. We heard from other incubators and accelerators that they’re either turning applicants away because they don’t have capacity or entrepreneurs are approaching them who aren’t ready to enter their program. So we see ourselves as a feeder: to catch entrepreneurs before they leave D.C. and get them connected with resources to start their businesses in order to then approach other incubators, accelerators and investors.
And also, there’s just a hunger for change. There’s an opportunity to put D.C. on the map as a really amazing place for social innovators to come and receive support and accelerate their ideas.
Technical.ly DC: When you initially launched SEED SPOT, did you have any reservations or fears about bringing the idea to life?
CK: In the two times that I’ve launched ventures, I think there’s always a fear of like, “Am I the only one who cares about this, sees this as a problem and thinks that we can change this problem?” And I think that those three things are common for all entrepreneurs, as well as that self-doubt.
I remember a former colleague once told me, “There’s no reason to ever doubt yourself because plenty of people will do that for you,” which really stuck with me. And I think the other thing is the reservations that people had of the unknown. Five years ago, social entrepreneurship wasn’t as well-known as it is today. So we definitely had to overcome some barriers to say, “These companies are viable businesses, with a real market opportunity and they create social impact.” And that’s really been my passion: dispelling the myths that social entrepreneurship is just this soft, fluffy nice thing and proving that these companies are generating revenue with a lot of potential to scale.
Technical.ly DC: Living in a city like Washington, which is very politically driven and tends to (pardon the cliche) either lean left or right, how would you explain to a lawmaker the importance of SEED SPOT and social entrepreneurship?
CK: That’s a great question. I think in many ways, social enterprise and innovation are apolitical. It’s a vehicle, right? And just like any vehicle, entrepreneurship can be taken for good, bad, right or left. I think when you weigh both sides of what social entrepreneurship means, it means business and revenue, which can sometimes lean one way, and it means Good and impact, which can sometimes lean another way. So I think that the opportunity in D.C. is to prove that you can sit squarely in the middle and drive change, and leverage and benefit both sides.
Technical.ly DC: Finally, what made you decide to choose Booz Allen Hamilton as a partner in bringing SEED SPOT to D.C.?
CK: Everything about our model is about partnerships. And with Booz Allen, the people, the talent and the company’s purpose truly aligned with our core values. Even during my many phone and electronic conversations with the staff here, I just got this vibe, this spirit of wanting to change the world. There’s a general excitement to get their team engaged with early stage startups and really help shape the future of what they can do as it relates to social impact.
Also, it’s been wonderful to see the assets of this firm and the people that they’ve attracted to do the work really sharing our commitment to driving social change. What I’ve learned during my visit of their Innovation Hub it’s that the willingness, excitement and personal passions are what drive the people that work here to do great work. And it’s also the brand promise of Booz Allen — they’re very forward looking and believe that we can all change the world together.