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‘It’s irresponsible to not look critically’ at where your company is based

Being a great place to live is good for D.C. as a tech hub. But founders also have to ask: who are their customers, employees and investors – and where are they?

The D.C. office of architectural design firm Gensler. (Courtesy photo)
Setting aside civic pride, startup founders are meant to grow companies.

That’s the first priority, not where that is done, says Ryan Ross, the program director of Halcyon Incubator, a socially-conscious focused offering.

“It’s irresponsible to not look critically about where your company is and why,” Ross said  at a Gensler-hosted panel event during DC Startup Week.

But the DMV region has an offering that is familiar to those growing companies here — part of the dense mid-Atlantic corridor of customers and employees, a legacy of big tech companies and lots of local pipeline building. The District, specifically, has bolstered its reputation, both via founders doing work here and government and other stakeholders.

“I recognize D.C. cares, and I believe that,” said Amelia Friedman, the cofounder and COO of Hatch, a platform for building mobile apps, who joined Ross at the Gensler event. But Friedman, a Y Combinator alumnae who has nine employees inside a WeWork location, represents that critical stage where her company’s trajectory will have plenty to do with geography. So her relationship with city government matters.

Not so long ago, Friedman says, she got a call from a certain state in the DMV region about a clerical error with some paperwork she had filed. On two different forms, two different company founding dates were listed.

“I thought we were toast,” said Friedman. Instead, the woman on the other end of the phone offered to make the quick fix for her. She said she wasn’t so sure it’d be that easy if it had happened in the District. Though Friedman specifically cited helpful branding work from the Mayor’s Office and WDCEP, she pondered whether there might be a kind of small business concierge, someone whom Friedman could contact directly, rather than spending time on hold, as she has before.

“I want to put all of my time into building a great product and team,” she said, noting even local taxes were less a concern for her than lost time. “Anything other than that is a distraction.”

You can easily see how her experience is being followed by others. “I’m watching to see how it goes,” said event supply marketplace startup Goodshuffle‘s cleancut cofounder Erik Dreyer. His team is just a handful, so he considers Friedman and Hatch farther down the pipeline. Her experience will inform his own decision, he said.

“D.C. is innovation friendly but not yet business friendly,” said Ross, who oversees many startups growing here locally.

But the city is a much better place to live than it was even just five years ago, he said, citing restaurant culture and amenities, in addition to a network of city-based founders and others — not to mention all of those big corporate tech players.

“The value of D.C. is that everyone is here, everyone has an office,” said Ross. If founders and CEOs get comfortable here, that’s a good predictor for where those companies will grow. As companies add employees, a relocation gets trickier.

So how do you choose ultimately where to grow your company? Friedman of Hatch said it’s straightforward: “Who do you sell to, who do you need to hire and who are your investors?” she said. “Be there.”

Companies: Hatch

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