It’s no secret that the Federal government is the biggest employer in the DC metro area. Smart, skilled people who want to change the world and make a difference, including already-scarce programmers, have traditionally flocked to the government for stability, a steady salary, a 40-hour work week, and great benefits.
With all due respect to my many friends who are currently furloughed, feeling very non-essential, and not sure how they will pay their bills if this lasts too long, the ridiculous government shutdown could turn out to be very good for the economy.
Why work for The Man, who turns out to be rather unstable (and also a little crazy), when you can work for yourself and build something big and bold that could positively affect the lives of millions of people?
It need not be a sexy idea, and, though it may be much more fun to talk about a consumer-facing startup at a cocktail party, who really needs another app for social discovery or an online marketplace or [fill in the blank]?
This morning I was talking to my friend and fellow journalist Bill Flook, and we both agree that the big ideas, the ones that will truly make a difference, are the companies that take big data and tame it to solve an enterprise-level problem. Talk about hitting two birds with one stone: you build a great company doing something you love, and you help other companies work smarter, better, more efficiently, more effectively, save money, save resources – you name it.
Aside from the positive effects on the economy, there really could not be a better time to start up in DC. There are 5 co-working spaces just within city limits – 1776, Affinity Lab, Canvas, PunchRock (their focus is on social entrepreneurship), and UberOffices – where founders can work on their startup and bounce ideas off of other entrepreneurs.
No matter where a startup founder might be in the development or growth cycle, there’s a bunch of other resources that they can tap into:
- Acceleprise, an enterprise-level accelerator
- DC I-Corps, a program that is helping connect inventors with companies and products to spur innovation
- Ideaspace, an entrepreneurial playground/self-directed incubator that will be opening soon
- DC Device Lab, which provides access to equipment and devices for startups to test their platform on.
This article would not be complete if I did not mention the couple of big stumbling blocks that stand in the way of starting up. It remains to be seen if a former government employee can handle the rigors of startup life. It ain’t easy – we all know that. An abrupt change of lifestyle can throw anyone for a loop, but, of course, if it was that awful, no one would start up.
The other problem is a perennial one for startups in DC, and that is the lack of funding sources. Sure we have the Center for Innovative Technology’s GAP funds, which is only for Virginia-based companies, and a few angel groups like the Dingman Center Angels and NextGen Angels, not to mention numerous angels who invest individually, but many startups have found it necessary to go outside the area to land funding
There is hope that Revolution Ventures’ new $200M Tech Fund will turn its sights on homegrown startups, but there’s a big “if” to that thinking: If there are startups that provide value and have long-term potential, there’ll be money flowing into DC from Revolution.
Of course, it is still too soon to tell what kind of positive effect the shutdown might have – if any – on the launch of startups. So far, the only visible effect has been the hasty unveiling of freelance job site, Unfurlough.us, which has gotten a ton of press but has not generated much in the way of real, lasting value. For one, there is no way to verify whether or not someone is actually furloughed, and secondly, as I write this, there are 66 gigs posted and many more freelancers than that – one of whom is in Paris of all places.
What it comes down to is this: Do you want to work for The Man, or do you want to be The Man?