Is DC Poised to Come Out Stronger Than Ever?

Recession proof. The term so often associated with Washington, DC and it’s surrounding areas. Typically the thought here is that the government is here, so jobs may be lost elsewhere, but when the economy goes bust what does the government do? Spend money! No small amount of which is spent just outside the borders into Virginia and Maryland.

This has held true during this most recent/current financial crisis. However, not everyone has gone untouched, and I have a theory [emphasize theory, as I am outside of my expertise here] about how this may affect our future in the DC Metro area.

The Future is Now

When we think of the Washington, DC economy we think of the obvious things, government, defense contractors, lawyers, and lobbyists. Oh, and of course Non-Government Organizations and Start Ups. Wait, what? NGO’s and Start Ups? Yes, welcome to what I believe will be a significant segment of Washington, DC, Northern Virginia, and border area’s of Maryland’s future.

Look at some early evidence from folks who are already making an impact: Living Social is quickly becoming a household name in the daily deals space, Start Up America Partnership has tapped DC’s own Steve Case to serve as it’s Chairman, DC’s Geoff Livingston and his consultancy to non-profits, Zoetica, are partnering with the likes of Google, Pepsico, and numerous other household names.

This, however, is just the tip of the iceberg. With the sluggish economy [Edit: I presume] some brilliant minds have been set free to find survival out in the wild. Out of this group I believe we will see a wave of innovation in spaces like health care, defense, and relief/aid that will serve as a new face to what a start up is and can be. Will it be tech? Yes. Will it be the type of tech start up we are used to? Absolutely not, and there in lies the strength of this coming wave (well, at least I think it’s coming). If what I think might be happening does, in fact happen, Washington, DC could become the Silicon Valley for grown ups. Meaning the bent will likely be local, national, and global innovation geared toward the real betterment of living standards, peace, and disaster relief.

Stronger Than Ever

What about this would make the Washington, DC economy stronger than ever? Simply, increased diversification. Many industries in the area are co-dependent on government. Bring in a viable self sufficient start up and NGO culture that, yes, leverages it’s access to government, but is not reliant upon government to survive and we have another layer of security in rough times.

Well, what do you think? Am I crazy?

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  • Thanks, Colin. It’s an honor to be included with such prestigious company! DC has what it takes. It did in the 90s, and it does now. But the best thing for us to remember is that we are DC, we are East Coast, and we are much more pragmatic than Silicon Valley. Play to our strengths, not to who we aren’t.

    • ColinStorm

      Geoff, Thanks for taking the time to comment. I am vastly under qualified to broach this topic with any credibility, but it does seem that there is a swell of innovative energy forming in DC. Given what you and your friends at Zoetica do in the non-profit space I think it was more than fitting to have you included.

      I absolutely agree about playing to our strengths. In my limited understanding I think to not to do would be to overlook an amazing opportunity.

  • Colin, thank you, thank you, for joining the conversation about how much opportunity there is here, and Geoff gets a huge hat tip for everything he has done to help not only non-profits as he does now, but also the businesses he helped build during his tenure in this region. There are so many ripe technology startups, biotech businesses, service firms, and frankly, middle-market companies that have nothing to do with selling to government, that to Geoff’s point, diversification is key. Trust me, we all welcome the opportunity our footprint next to the biggest government in the world gives us, but we are more than that. TechCocktail wrote a great piece this week, “DC Ain’t Silicon Valley” and yet there is work to do. I believe we should applaud being different than Silicon Valley, as we are. I am proud to consider myself part of this region, and I can say that with even more gusto, since I bear Silicon Valley roots!

    • ColinStorm

      Elizabeth, Thank you for your comments, and thank you for your kind thank you’s. As I mentioned to Geoff I am far from qualified to enter the discussion with much authority, but from the standpoint of the economy, and of course for me, real estate, I am excited about what I am hearing and the buzz/energy that seems to be building.

      I caught a portion of the TechCoctail piece as I was finalizing this one. Admittedly I stopped reading because it was much better than this piece, and I didn’t want to be discouraged from finishing it anyway!

  • I think one thing that DC has always had, even in rough times, is people who know when to specialize and when to broaden their focus. For example, if your company works on political issues, and the prevailing winds change, you can find a way to shift your focus. I used to work at an ad agency (in DC!) that had a specialization in pharmaceutical marketing, but was broadening after a long period of growth, to ensure that the company’s success wouldn’t always be dependent on one sector. It must be something in the water here – companies prepare better for a change in fortunes, even in good times, in my experience.

    • ColinStorm

      Rebecca, I love that bit of perspective. Living Social is actually a great example of what you are talking about. They actually started out very broad, but b/c of that they sort of lacked identity, so they got super focused. Now we know who they are, and now they can diversify moving forward. This is their greatest advantage over Groupon in my opinion.

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