Will the Twin Tech Towns Find Common Ground?
Here's Zach Goldfarb's weekly update on the local technology scene.
In Washington politics, of course, we have the two-party system.
In Washington technology, we have new and old.
It's an election year, so it's not hard to guess which of those divided Washington worlds is trying to come together.
In the new tech crowd are the social media types who live on Facebook and MySpace, build applications for the Web and, in some cases, have created companies that are generating tons of Internet buzz and even quite a bit of money. In the old tech crowd are the system integrators, database builders and technology service companies that rely on the government for business.
The two communities certainly have never had the hostility that the Republicans and Democrats have had. Rather, they've operated in two different universes, a theme illustrated recently by two major events held on the same night and at the same time by the two different communities.
Since the column was published, the local technology community has been abuzz searching for ways to introduce Mr. Facebook to Mr. Government Enterprise, exchange business cards and maybe even do a little business together.
Peter Corbett, who runs a local Web consulting company called iStrategy Labs, has been one of the cheerleaders of this effort. He called NVTC to see if the powerful business group would be interested in reaching out to the social media crowd. It was. And on Thursday, at District club Local 16, more than 400 people from both the local Web 2.0 scene and the more established technology companies that dot the Beltway are registered to come together to mingle.
"There didn't seem to be too much crossover between the two crowds," Corbett said. "This new media community in D.C. has a lot to learn from the veterans out in Northern Virginia, but they also bring a ton of talent and passion to this area."
A big question is how many of the veterans -- the more established crowd -- will show up at Local 16. Who will be able to break away from their jobs or families to hang with a group of twenty-somethings? A look at the guest list shows a huge turnout -- but not many, yet, from old tech. The plan for the party makes clear there's a desire out there to connect old tech and new tech. But will this party be a first step toward doing that, or will it illuminate even more how far apart the two communities are?
In any event, the gathering has been attracting attention. Three other old tech organizations -- the D.C. Technology Council, the D.C. Economic Partnership and the Greater Baltimore Technology Council -- are backing the event. And in true Web form, a noted technology writer who has been on a "user-generated book tour" will stop by to say a few words. Sarah Lacy, a BusinessWeek columnist who recently wrote a book about the new media scene, "Once You're Lucky, Twice You're Good," writes about start-ups and venture capital in Silicon Valley.
On his blog, Corbett wrote that he has two goals for the party. First, "I want business to get done: find talent, find funding, meet a partner/a client/an advisor," he wrote. Second, he added, "I want people to start talking about creating an technology lab in the heart of DC that will support entrepreneurs who are building the next iteration of the web."
Corbett said the local new media scene, which was just percolating when he arrived in the area in 2004, has taken off. And that community itself is split -- very broadly -- into a few categories. There are Web 2.0 companies that have become real businesses -- firms such as the big widget maker Clearspring of McLean, Webs of Silver Spring and LivingSocial of the District. There are the evangelists for the local Web 2.0 scene, the bloggers and the programmers.
Equally as interesting are the people active in social media but operating under the radar. "A lot of the other folks are night and weekend basement and condo type things," Corbett said. "While they're working for the Booz Allen Hamiltons of the world and the AOLs and the Accentures, they're trying to build the next best Clearspring."
Meanwhile, a player from the old tech community has been working with a few guys from the new tech community to create a company to energize hiring and business across Washington's entire technology scene.
The company, called Crossmine, is a jobs database for the area that soaks up listings from hundreds of start-ups as well as more established companies like the government contractor SRA International. It's the brainchild of a old-time entrepreneur in the area named Bob Nelson, though its roster also includes Barg Upender, who's hard at work building a local Web development firm called Intridea.
"I came up with the idea of going to all the Web sites of all the high-tech companies in Washington and mining the jobs out of them and putting it into a central directory on the Web," Nelson said. Nelson has had a window into the process as an adviser to the Reston firm Clarabridge, which does this type of service for big companies.
"In Washington in particular we are highly underserved in the number of entrepreneurial companies we have relative to the knowledge workers, PhDs and research facilities we have," he said. "And part of the reason is the region isn't as networked among entrepreneurs as it needs to be."
Crossmine is just in a testing phase, culling and mashing up data from the jobs site SimplyHired to provide a snapshot of who's hiring in the Washington region. It has raised $100,000 from two well-known venture capitalists and entrepreneurs: Jim Rutt, former chief executive of Network Solutions, and Tom Spahr, one of the early people at McLean tech giant MicroStrategy.
Crossmine is looking for more money.
But it's still decided to sponsor this Thursday's old tech/new tech party.
July 11, 2008; 10:29 AM ET
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