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Why young entrepreneurs flock to DC Nightowls

Launched in 2011, the Meetup group has grown a large following, birthed a few startups and earned daps from a number of big names.

At a recent DC Nightowls meetup. (Photo by Lalita Clozel)

At #dctech’s most fluttering Meetup, pretty much anyone can swoop in, talk shop and have a hoot. “It’s that early-stage stuff,” said organizer Andrew Conklin. “Whether you’re a rookie or a veteran.”
When DC Nightowls was launched in 2011 by Conklin and Joy Chen, it didn’t attract entrepreneurs in droves just yet. “When we first got going, it was six people in the room,” he said.
But with the help of Gulnara Mirzakarimova, the third organizer who is now a programmer and budding actress in Los Angeles, the group took off.
She brought with her “a wave of very social designer-type people,” explained Conklin, shrugging. “I have an engineer mindset.” (The 2,000 member-strong group has now gone somewhat “mainstream,” he added.)
In the early days, the DC Nightowls were quite migratory: they met once a week, changed locations regularly and stayed up till 3 a.m. whenever they could. The group has been inside the slumbering offices of Radio Free Asia and in the Artosphere. It’s even been to the White House Capitol Complex. The next meetup is Oct. 7, at the cove, from 8 p.m. to midnight:
http://www.meetup.com/dcnightowls/events/225449848/
Barely half a year in, DC Nightowls organizers were invited to attend the White House Social Innovation Summit by Meetup CEO Scott Heiferman. And in 2013, Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) led the group’s first pep talk session.
Now held once every two weeks at either a cove coworking space or incubator 1776, the sessions usually involve a round of introductions where each person shares what they’re interested in working on and how they can help others. Then, they are free to work or chat.
Because of its flexible format, the DC Nightowls meetups can attract entrepreneurs of all stripes.
There are the D.C. tech fanatics like Brian Frankel, a business and entertainment lawyer who invented the practically-minded Pen Loop (patent pending). “All my people are Nightowls,” he swooned during an early September gathering at cove’s new Columbia Heights location.
In a red dress and pearl necklace, Rachael Soloway, a Congressman’s assistant, explained what brought her in: “It’s super casual” — a contrast to some of the Capitol Hill networking events she’s been to, which are “never interpersonal” and “very abstract.”
Co-organizer Conklin himself used the DC Nightowls as a launching pad for his fitness tech startup, Routeam. He and his cofounder, CEO Dustin Canter, met there frequently to talk shop. “It was very helpful to have a place to go … back when our business was our side project,” said Conklin.
And he’s not alone: other startups that cut their teeth at DC Nightowls include UrbanStems, Pyazza and Naytev (formerly Changecause).

Companies: cove / UrbanStems / 76 Forward

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