Can D.C. Build A Startup Community?

Last night I attended the D.C. New Media Meetup. I got into a conversation with a number of people about this drive for building the D.C. technology community and more than building the community (which already exists), building an environment that is supportive of web startups. We already have a number of local web startups that are doing well but there appears to be a significant disconnect from these companies the community and the investors.

LaunchBox Digital, the local early stage investment fund, was a welcomed addition to the D.C. community. Unfortunately not everyone who applies gets selected and this has been discouraging for a few applicants. We are on the verge of something big. There is more buzz surrounding D.C. technology, there are an increasing number of investors and there is also more vocal participants than ever before.

There are still parts of the community that are learning though. As we all know, D.C. is not your traditional web startup community in that we don’t have a local university that is known for technology and we don’t have the risk taking environment. In order to build this environment I think we need a few additional things beyond the things I’ve previously mentioned.

Entrepreneur Education
If we are going to get a thriving group of entrepreneurs we need people to be educated about what it means to take risks, how to approach getting funding and how to know when to quit. I’ve heard a lot of complaints from a number of people about what’s lacking but I also think that there is plenty here and sometimes it is not the community. We read in Techcrunch about new startups getting funding everyday (well frequently at least) and it leads a lot of other people to think that they deserve funding for their crazy internet idea.

I’ve had crazy internet ideas and so far none have received funding but I have learned something from the people that do receive funding: it’s not about the idea, it’s about the team. Also, if you are going to get funding you better start networking like crazy because locally there are a lot of investors that think and act like Warren Buffet. Check out the following video and you’ll know what I mean:

Active Leaders and Educational Events
There are a lot of big named business people in the D.C. area. None of them are at any events. While I don’t expect them to attend the average happy hour, we need to have events where inspirational people can speak. When I saw Mitch Kapor speak at an event with Facebook developers out in California last year, I saw what was different about Silicon Valley. There are leaders that are at the events and are acting at mentors to the community.

I’d like to get a series of events where we have speakers talking to the local entrepreneurs. I’ve already begun planning on one but that hasn’t been announced yet. What events do you think would help build this community further? What else do you think would be helpful to continue building the community?