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1776, DC startup incubator celebrates global tech revolution

By Sonali Basak -- Medill News Service   |   July 8, 2013 at 6:26 PM
Video by Sonali Basak -- Medill News Service
WASHINGTON, July 8 -- Startup incubator 1776 launched a program this week to connect technology entrepreneurs across America – and around the globe.

And on this Fourth of July season, entrepreneurs are not only celebrating the American Revolution, but also a technological revolution.

“Startups can happen anywhere,” said Donna Harris, co-founder of 1776. She added that harnessing startup communities creates a central space for innovators in one physical plant to collaborate.

Now, there are dozens of incubators for startups in many of America’s cities that help young technology companies grow through mentorship and exposure to investors and bigger technology companies.

But an incubator in the nation’s capital – in this case a building near the White House -- provides a unique opportunity for America’s startup cities to unify. It’s also a chance for new companies to partner with prominent policy makers, investors and think tanks in what many regard as the most powerful city in the world.

The city has invested more than $200,000 in building the space, showing a commitment to technology.

The Washington incubator launched “Startup Federation,” a program to partner with leading incubators across the globe for mentorship and collaboration.

While the incubator has not yet released the list of partners, the possibilities include London, Moscow, Tel Aviv, Mumbai and Beijing, along with a number of American cities.

More than 500 entrepreneurs, investors, thought leaders and politicians, including Washington Mayor Vincent Gray, gathered at the incubator Tuesday on a rainy evening to celebrate the success of the space and what it means for entrepreneurs.

“We have hitched our wagon to technology as a way of beginning to develop an independent economy here in the District of Columbia,” said Mayor Gray. “Recognizing the ups and the downs of our federal economy, we wanted to be able to start to create our own.”

More than 100 startups have joined the 1776 community since it opened in April. Harris and her co-founder, Evan Burfield, have been planning for the launch of the space for more than a year, allowing the duo to set the necessary relationships to make the incubator successful.


Technology under the wing of the White House

Harris explains that the proximity of the incubator to the White House and policy makers helps facilitate its role in becoming a central location for startup communities.

“It’s an important part of the overall messaging and kind of the premise that we’re
trying to get across,” Harris said. Because of the prominent visitors to the nation’s capital, startup entrepreneurs gain exposure to not only policy makers, but also clients across the globe.

Infield Health is an example of one company benefitting from this exposure. A visit from a delegation from Germany has brought the company more business abroad.

While Washington has been known for its politics rather than its startup community, the political ties, access to think tanks and foreign visitors have all proved to be a benefit to the startup community.

And Harris said she hopes that this benefit is one that 1776 can share.
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