With the down economy and a decrease in venture dollars being invested, many people in the Washington, D.C. region are under the impression that the opportunities for entrepreneurship are few and far between in the National Capital region.
We recently caught up with Gene Riechers, a trusted advisor to technology entrepreneurs and a co-founder and former General Partner of Valhalla Partners.
As an expert in entrepreneurship and the moderator of an upcoming entrepreneur panel discussion at the ACG National Capital November Monthly Meeting, we sat down with Gene to discuss what the environment in the region is really like for entrepreneurs and what markets are seeing innovative new businesses being formed. Here’s what Gene had to say:
Q: First off – let’s dive right into the big question – what is the current environment like out there for entrepreneurs, and are new, innovative businesses being formed in the Washington, D.C. region?
A: Absolutely. It is true that venture capital financing is down in total dollars in the region. However, with the changes in the technology industry allowing businesses to use open source software and rent IT infrastructure, it’s cheaper to start a company than it has been in the past. Some will need more capital eventually, but getting started is inexpensive in many sectors.
I think there’s a great deal of entrepreneurship in the region. A lot of these companies are raising less money then they have before, but the entrepreneurial spirit is still really strong.
Q: There is a school of thought out there that if you’re going to start a technology company, you need to be in Silicon Valley. What are your thoughts on that?
A: Do you have to move to the Valley to build a great technology company? I never believed that. You can build a great technology company in the DC region.
There are certainly things that the Valley does well, but a lot of both consumer and enterprise software companies have been built in the DC area. There are skilled and educated people here, in this region, to do that.
Q: The National Capital region has a history as a hotbed for the government contracting market. What other industries and markets are we seeing growth in? Where are there entrepreneurial opportunities right now?
A: There continues to be many opportunities in what’s visible and popular today, such as social media. But I also see new innovations in enterprise software and the education market.
There are multiple education technology companies being built in this area right now. Many were inspired by another large, successful education technology company in the area – Blackboard. In fact, some of the people starting this new generation of education technology companies spent time at Blackboard.
There are real opportunities created by the significant issues and problems in both K12 and higher education. Technology can be a big contributor to solving those problems.
This need has led to the creation of multiple new education technology companies in the region, such as EverFi, which provides supplemental educational offerings, Starfish, which offers retention solutions to colleges and universities, 2U, which partners with colleges and universities to create online degree programs and K12, which provides online education in the K12 market.
In the enterprise software market, OPower, based right here in Arlington, is the leader in a new worldwide market for customer engagement platforms for the utility industry.
We’d like to thank Gene for taking the time to speak with us and answer our questions. Gene will be moderating the entrepreneur panel at the November Monthly Meeting. Also appearing on the panel are Bud Rosenthal, the SVP and general manager of paid services at AOL, Tom Davidson, the co-founder and CEO at Everfi and Dan Frank, the CEO of Three Wire Systems, LLC. For additional information, or to register to attend, visit the ACG Web site.