Washington, D.C.'s startup ecosystem is expected to get a major boost thanks to Amazon's imminent HQ2 arrival in Crystal City, Virginia. What's more, local schools are opening satellite campuses and innovations centers nearby, which is bound to bring more tech talent to the nation's capital. But there is more to the area than just Amazon and politics.

Startup Neighborhoods

Georgetown U grads don't stray far from campus to start companies, creating a hub among the Georgetown neighborhood's colorful row houses and high-end boutiques. Fast-casual salad company Sweetgreen launched close to Georgetown Cupcake, and the nonprofit Halcyon House (headquartered in a haunted mansion) helps early-stage entrepreneurs with social missions.

If salad and cupcakes don't cut it, head to NoMa (North of Massachusetts Avenue). This hotbed of eatery innovation hosts culinary accelerator Union Kitchen, watering holes like Red Bear Brewing Co., and Union Market, a 40-plus-vendor hall packed with food stalls and funky shops.

Home to grocery app Basket and stock media startup Storyblocks, Arlington, Virginia, boasts low tax rates and Amazon's coming HQ2 to stoke a warm entrepreneurial scene, says Jeff Reid, founding director of Georgetown Entrepreneurship Initiative.

Recent Exits

  • Event-organizing platform Social Tables to Cvent, for a reported $100 million (2018)
  • Cloud-computing startup Appian in an initial public offering, for $75 million (2017)
  • Analytics software maker Applied Predictive Technologies to Mastercard, for $600 million (2015)
43.9%
Portion of women in managerial positions in D.C.
Source: LendingTree
No. 1
D.C. has been named the best city for women in tech for the past five years.
$67
Average asking rent per square foot for D.C. office space
Source: SquareFoot

Notable Funding

$30 million Cava (fast-casual Mediterranean restaurants)

$190 million EverFi (digital learning platform)

$164 million Mapbox (open-source mapping platform)

Companies to Watch

EverFi, an 11-year-old education platform backed by Amazon's Jeff Bezos and former Alphabet CEO Eric Schmidt, teaches real-world skills like financial literacy, in addition to standard curricula.

In April, Framebridge announced a $46.5 million Series C round, bringing funding to $82.1 million. The direct-to-consumer custom-framing startup is taking on a $4 billion industry.

Technology company Optoro helps retailers channel their returned or excess inventory. Co-founded by Tobin Moore, Adam Vitarello, and Justin Lesher in 2010, the startup has raised $200 million.

The Players

After exiting his Inc. 500 call-center company, CyberRep, in 2003, Tien Wong founded Connect­preneur, a bimonthly community forum of more than 8,000 entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and CEOs in the Mid-Atlantic region. 

Serial entrepreneur Melissa Bradley is an adjunct professor at Georgetown's business school and founder and managing partner of 1863 Ventures, an early-stage accelerator that helps individuals in historically marginalized groups scale their businesses.

Anna Mason, a partner on Revolution's Rise of the Rest seed fund who previously co-founded the fitness app BurnThis, volunteers as the co-director of the Vinetta Project, a collective that aims to close the gender-based VC funding gap by connecting female founders with investors.

Red Flags

Despite a flock of electric scooters and a bike-share program, traffic is a problem downtown. "I missed a key Series B meeting," says Matt Calkins, founder of cloud-computing company Appian.

Unlike its neighbors, Virginia and Maryland, D.C. doesn't have a state fund that invests in early-stage businesses, which drives founders elsewhere in search of capital, says Melissa Bradley, of early-stage accelerator 1863 Ventures. "That's where we are struggling."

Amazon's imminent arrival in Arlington's Crystal City neighborhood is creating anxiety over competition for local talent--it's unclear how many workers will be imported, says Clare Bennett, director of marketing at accelerator Dcode.

Where to Talk Shop

Just steps from the White House, the tropical-themed WeWork at Metro­politan Square is the best place to rub elbows with power players while sipping free microbrew coffee.

Founders who work through happy hour flock to Bourbon Coffee in the West End. Grab an African brew, sink into a plush chair, and power through those long meetings.

Venture capitalists, lobbyists, founders, and government officials alike gather in the deep green booths at Old Ebbitt Grill, a D.C. staple known for its burgers and oysters.

Talent Pipeline

The city's top-notch academic institutions--Georgetown, American, George Washington, and Howard universities, to name a few--along with their business schools and entrepreneurial programs, create a rich stream of talent for local companies.

As online marketplace LivingSocial shrank from 4,500 workers in 2011 to about 200 in 2016, many former staffers, like Susan Tynan of Framebridge, joined startups or created their own. Talent also comes from large professional service firms such as Deloitte and edtech startup Blackboard.

When intelligence agency employees want to try something different, they often stay local. According to Jake Kramer, managing partner at federally funded venture program FedTech, the FBI, CIA, NSA, and DoD all supply talent to D.C. companies.

From the October 2019 issue of Inc. Magazine