The DC Region Again Proves its Entreprenuerial Agility

Once again, the capital region is proving that it can pivot.

My research team and I spent the past six months deep diving into all sorts of data on innovation in the nation's capital -- trying to figure out what works in this unique market, what doesn't, and how to stay ahead of the curve.

And people are listening. Even if the truth is not always easy to hear.

In a report entitled "Building Entrepreneurial Innovation in the Greater Washington Region" I prove how our "dependency" on federal spending is actually an opportunity, and the numbers give our community a sense of its ability to be entrepreneurial. This report was prepared for the 2030 Group, a collection of civically-minded leaders of the region's business community.

The whole point of the report is to help us diversify and create high-value jobs, and initial feedback is that the data is indeed being absorbed -- people can see how the capital region is brimming with possibility. The data-driven report providing leadership and a roadmap made an argument that was strong and supportable -- and it is resonating.

My inbox pings with messages of support and queries on how to play a role. In some ways my report goes against the conventional wisdom. But, the conventional wisdom wasn't getting us where we need to go.

At the root of this report is a very important point. When we talk about growing new innovation businesses, there are only two real choices available: the first is to hope that the private sector will miraculously provide the billions of dollars necessary for us to retool. The second is to use federal dollars to jumpstart the retooling, and integrate our business community to pull these companies forward.

We are proposing the second because it is the big thing we have going for us. After spending close to 30 years in this field, I know that if we try to do this with massive private investments, we would be fighting a battle from behind and would lose out to other regions making the same efforts. We would fail.

The capital region is concerned about falling behind because the capital markets make it look like we are not as good place for private investment as elsewhere -- because of the isolation between startups and larger indigenous businesses. That is why we get 2.4% of venture capital and Silicon Valley gets 45%. We need to change this by jumpstarting our innovation community.

How do we do that? We take advantage of a M&A market that has completed 12,000 deals over the last 20 years, utilize the 108 federal labs in the region and apply the close to $60 billion a year that goes into the region for R&D and information technology and grow great technology businesses. In short, build 21st century startups off the region's strengths.

We're not a stuffy city full of suits and bureaucrats. It is the place where the Cold War was won, the Space Race put men on the moon, the Internet was created and the human genome was decoded. We are a business community that is agile and adaptable, and it's clear that my recommendations have not fallen on deaf ears -- change is already afoot. Details to follow.