Startups

As we return to IRL events, what does connection look like for DMV startups?

From networking to investment deals to mentorships, the way we work together just looks different. DC-area founders and tech ecosystem builders shared their thoughts on what it means to connect in the DMV during a Technical.ly- and Silicon Valley Bank-hosted dinner this week.

Are you ready for face-to-face networking?

(Photo by Pexels user Pixabay, used under a Creative Commons license)

With another summer event season gearing up after two years of Zoom meetups and Linkedin friending, what does it actually mean to connect?

Discussions around this theme of connection were ever-present, amid the sounds of clinking silverware, during a dinner with DC startup founders that Technical.ly hosted with sponsor Silicon Valley Bank this week. After two years of virtual mode and a whole host of socio-economic challenges and movements that changed the world as we know it, the way we connect is simply not the same as it once was.

Take the classic virtual meetings, which still take place as many (including myself) continue working remotely. In the IRL days, businesswear and handshakes were the norms. Now, they can mean deals closed while wearing clothes with elastic waistbands (dress shirt and blazer on top, if you’re sneaky). After bonding over our mutual experience of wearing pajamas while we spoke for a story a few months ago, one founder noted that our interview felt closer to talking with a friend, which left them more room to be open and vulnerable about their startup and their hopes for its progress.

This removal of a barrier (which is perhaps the stereotypical idea of professionalism itself, currently being redefined) is also creating openings for more and more founders to grow into the ecosystem. When asked, many of our founders said they had no trouble offering advice, mentorship or connections to new founders on the scene — even if it was clear from the beginning that someone was trying to gain something for their company. “Why wouldn’t I help others,” they asked, “especially after someone already helped me?”

Still, there are communication and opportunity gaps that need to be filled. While DC’s proximity to other local cities offers founders more chances to find resources and funding than they might in a more isolated market, some attendees noted that there are fewer funding resources for early-stage startups. While there are accelerators and incubators and mentorship opportunities for very early stages, DC funds are often looking for some more advanced startups than other nearby cities. The solution might even require extending the idea of how we consider the DMV ecosystem.

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As we brush off stacks of business cards and gear up for several real-life gatherings, we’ll carry on building connections among the local community. For some, it might even look more like the world you knew a few years ago than last summer’s freshly-vaxxed event environment. But there’s still plenty of room to grow, sweatpants optional.

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