Getting Ready for Amazon: Nurturing DC’s Tech and Innovation Ecosystem

DC is in the top 10 innovation ecosystems in the country—but how can we crack the top 5? Amazon’s new headquarters could help us get there.

We convened a breakfast roundtable, led by Trustee David Lawson from JP Morgan, to think through how the city can be more strategic and about how to leverage this Amazon HQ2 opportunity. Four DC-based entrepreneurs— Dan Berger from Social Tables, Melissa Bradley from 1863 Ventures, Kevin Bennett from MotoRefi, and Ryan Croft from TransitScreen —were featured guests.

Outside of cybersecurity or government-related work, DC is not a leader in tech. It’s thought that the availability of talent, capital and culture drive a region’s success in tech.

Capital follows talent and good ideas. For the featured tech entrepreneurs, accessing local capital is not their primary challenge—retaining talent is.

Twenty-something, entry-level coders are not difficult to come by in DC. The challenge is keeping them for the second tech gig. By age thirty, when they are still mobile and unattached, they decide to move away to Denver, Austin, San Francisco or New York City. Their tech careers end up being elsewhere.

According to Dan Berger, who recently sold Social Tables to events software company Cvent Inc. for a nine-figure sum, DC’s most important tool for retaining and attracting top talent is its quality of life, including its schools and public transportation system.

These young people also need an ecosystem of tech opportunities where they can bounce around, learn and advance. In part because of their flight, DC doesn’t have good senior operators, or C-suite folks, in tech.

But DC does have a lot of non-tech talent to start from. There are thousands of well-educated workers at the World Bank or the State Department who could shift over to tech.