Entrepreneurship and Innovation Networks Are Regional. Here’s Why.
In my work on transportation issues at the County Council, I look for ways our county bus system can use technology more effectively. After reading an article in the Washington Post about TransitLabs, I reached out to the company on Twitter and asked if they would be willing to sit down with me and talk to me about their vision for transit technology. They invited me to come meet them at their offices at 1776.
Arriving at the front desk, I was surprised to see my friend Jason Green in a meeting at what appeared to be his workspace. I learned that Green, a county politico whom I also know from his previous work on the Obama campaign, is starting a company called SkillSmart, which matches job seekers with employers—very cool. Jason also informed me that much of the tech work on his company is performed by his business partners back home in Germantown (Montgomery County). And in fact, one of his co-owners is former County Councilman Mike Knapp, who is working with Montgomery County to re-invigorate our incubator system.
I began my meeting with Dag Gogue and Farhan Daredia from TransitLabs. They described their business model: to help transit agencies better manage data and the decisions that data can drive. It was a great discussion. I asked if Gogle had met our County transit operations team at RideOn, our bus service, and I offered to introduce him.
Gogue surprised me with his response. Not only would he like to meet RideOn officials, but he informed me that he lives in downtown Rockville along with his young family, so Montgomery County is on his radar as a jurisdiction where he might want to grow his business in the future.
At that point I realized that there were probably a few more Montgomery County entrepreneurs setting up shop at 1776. Despite its location in DC, 1776 is helping Montgomery County thrive.
That’s when I ran into David Zipper, managing director of 1776 Ventures, whom I actually know from way back. I didn’t know Zipper played an important role in launching 1776, and he and I agreed to get together afterward.
All of these contacts reinforced to me that 1776 is not a place: It is a powerful network, and the network is regional.
In the regional economic-competition model, attracting companies is generally a zero-sum game. But supporting entrepreneurs and young companies and building a thriving regional entrepreneurial scene is not zero sum. The more that a particular region develops as a hub for tech companies, the more that every jurisdiction in the region benefits from the skilled workforce that moves there, the investment capital that follows the entrepreneurs, the income that the employees earn and the services that those companies provide.
If strong networking is beneficial to the economic development of every jurisdiction, how can local governments in the region work together to build on our strengths? Since 1776—and other incubators like it in places like Chicago and Austin—are already regional entrepreneurship networks, how can we make its regionalism more intentional and therefore more powerful?
Local governments in the region could become partners of 1776, taking advantage of the content provided by 1776 to support their own incubator networks—and 1776 could work with the jurisdictions to launch programs in their focus areas. Because 1776 focuses on companies that meet government and public sector needs, local officials also could serve as mentors, offering their time as sounding boards or informational resources for those companies, as D.C. city officials already do.
An entity like 1776 provides a great opportunity for local governments to get involved and support the innovation economy—and reap its rewards as well.