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New DC Tech Studio is helping startups achieve scale in media, govtech and beyond

Eleven companies joined a pilot incubator cohort as part of the program from the DC Tech & Venture Coalition, which also launched a new angel investing vehicle.

DC Tech Studio’s Founding Program Director Brendan Whitaker at the initiative's first demo day. (Kaela Roeder/Technical.ly)

A new initiative in DC aims to help local pre-seed companies continue growing while considering the region’s unique national and global leadership position. 

DC Tech Studio is a new program out of the DC Tech & Venture Coalition, an organization made up of founders, investors and leaders in technology and innovation throughout the area. The studio connects startups with resources to scale, as well as links the entrepreneurs with each other and decision-makers in and around the nation’s capital. 

One of the first parts of the program, which started to come together about two months ago, is a pilot incubator cohort for early-stage local firms. The inaugural group is made up of 11 startups, a majority of which had a product already developed when they started the pilot, according to DC Tech Studio’s Founding Program Director Brendan Whitaker. 

“What are the core things that we need to provide for the companies, in a business fundamentals sense?” Whitaker told Technical.ly. “Then, on the flip side of that, what are the ways that we can connect them and engage the institutional DC ecosystems?”

The latter doesn’t mean lobbying, Whitaker said, but rather, encouraging founders to look at big-picture problems affecting the US and the world. 

One of the ways Whitaker hopes this manifests is through entrepreneurs serving as “thought leaders” for major projects — for example, the many calls to electrify transportation in the US. This could involve engaging with NGOs, think tanks or federal agencies. Whitaker explained this approach would also help startups navigate the heavily regulatory environment of government contracting, which is a major part of the startup ecosystem in DC. 

In college, Whitaker created his own startup that focused on political campaign management and consulting. It was short-lived and a “hard lesson in how difficult it is to start up and run a company,” he said. He now works as a freelancer in brand and content strategy, working mostly with early-stage organizations in capacities like this current one. 

A man stands with a microphone next to a TV displaying a presentation.

Dumi Mabhena, the CEO and founder of Shanda Studio, presents his startup at the DC Tech Studio demo day. (Kaela Roeder/Technical.ly)

The studio’s first cohort, and a new angel fund

This pilot, a six-week program, culminated in a demo day Thursday evening at the coworking space Venture X in Adams Morgan, a primary sponsor and partner of the new studio, per Whitaker. 

Startups from across several industries made up the cohort. Their products included everything from a platform for freelance journalists to connect with editors, to an app aiming to streamline purchase returns. Whitaker and the rest of his volunteer team reached out to the local founders to be a part of the cohort. 

They all said yes with enthusiasm, and have been very hands-on in the development of DC Tech Studio — for their own cohort and for future planning, Whitaker said. 

Most of the group startups demoed and pitched their company at the event, including three whose leaders requested their demo and presentation be off the record because of their operating in stealth or other not-yet-public developments. 

One of those members was Dumi Mabhena, the CEO and founder of Shanda Studio

He seeks to make editing podcasts easier based on his experience producing his own, titled “Zimbabwean Voices.” While he loved it, it took up too much time and resources, he said. The struggle, Mabhena explained at the event, is that editing can get too technical and complicated. Shanda Studio uses AI to transcribe the recorded audio, and users can strike out words as a way to edit, making it a much easier process. 

“Our big vision is to simplify how storytellers are able to create,” Mabhena said, “just like I needed when I was starting out.”

A new angel investing initiative also launched at the event. District Angels is a syndicate with a focus on startups in the DMV and is open to all sectors at pre-seed, seed and, at times, Series A levels. Like the new studio, it also operates under the DC Tech & Venture Coalition umbrella.     

Meet the DC Tech Studio cohort members

Industry-focused cohorts and additional workshops, all from volunteers

The founders’ involvement doesn’t end here, even though the formal programming for this specific cohort wrapped, Whitaker noted. The group will be the main point of contact for developing future plans, which will entail workshops and more cohorts. 

The specifics are still being thought through, but Whitaker has some ideas: He wants to develop more industry-focused cohorts, whether focused on cybersecurity, climate tech or government tech, to name a few. 

With these thematic groups, he wants to bring in more tailored mentors and programming for founders to get tips on navigating their specific industry. He also wants to host mastermind sessions, workshops and panel discussions to help equip and connect founders. 

While looking ahead, Whitaker also acknowledges how fast DC Studio came to be. He credited members of his founding team, Alitha Doh and Day Martin, for their work. He also highlighted the help of the DC Tech & Venture Coalition team.

“It has been all volunteer. It’s very much a movement in that way,” Whitaker said. “That team was the only reason we even felt it was possible to pull something off on that time.”

Companies: Standd

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