When it came time to decide on a location to plant roots and grow her startup, Rachel Koretsky made the rounds. She visited cities up and down the Atlantic coast, going to events and talking to people over coffee.
The six months she spent living in the sunshine of Ft. Lauderdale didn’t convince her to move her new business there. Neither did the palm trees of Miami or the hustle and bustle of New York. Philadelphia was in the running, but that historic city didn’t ultimately win out.
Instead, Rachel moved her company, Upace, a mobile platform for recreation centers, to Washington, D.C.
Why did she pick the nation’s capital, a city known for politics, lobbyists and regulators, for her business? It wasn’t the clean city streets or the cherry blossoms. What drew Rachel to D.C. was the warm reception she received during her search.
“I moved to D.C. because I realized how supportive the ecosystem is,” said Koretsky, whose company is now in its fifth year. She found that people in the D.C. startup community were willing to lend a hand and share business advice with her.
“I didn’t see that elsewhere,” she said.
Koretsky moved to D.C. four years ago, and in that time she has seen the startup scene explode. She now runs D.C. Startup Week, a community in the DMV—that’s the District, Maryland, Virginia area. Each September, D.C. Startup Week runs a five-day program of over 100 events and it’s growing fast. She says there are now about 10,000 people in the community now.
This is happening alongside a different trend in the last decade: mega corporations have opened offices in Washington, D.C. as well. That includes Amazon, Facebook, Google and Apple. Many of these companies have planted a stake in the area not for the warm and fuzzy community that Rachel has experienced—but for lobbying reasons. There’s a pretty big distance between Amazon and fledgling startups, but what this means is more tech talent moving into the area.
Rachel, of course, saw different reasons to move to D.C. than lobbying the government. She’s found an ever-flowing talent pool of new graduates to potentially hire. The city itself—clean and compact, bustling but not too fast-paced—is a draw for potential employees as a nice place to live.
Building a business in Washington, D.C. was also a draw for Roxy Jahangeri. Roxy is the founder of D.C. Brunch Club, which plans large events and parties; and of Poppi Events, a creative events agency.
In the decade she has lived in D.C., she has seen the area change quickly. Streets where she once saw broken down garage buildings have been filled with bustling nightlife. This has helped her businesses in particular, especially at a time when brands are increasingly interested in pop-up style experiential marketing.
“There is so much opportunity here,” Jahangeri said. And more than that, she has found that supportive environment that Rachel spoke of as well.
“People are still willing to help and see you succeed. It’s a very collaborative environment.”
Last year, Roxy designed a holiday pop-up experience at a sports bar that across the street from a holiday market. The goal was to draw a lot of the foot traffic into that otherwise non-festive bar. Roxy and a digital marketing expert she met at D.C. Startup Week last year, Cory Lawrence, put their heads together on the pop-up experience. They more than doubled the bar’s revenue when the pop-up was live. That wouldn’t have happened without D.C. Startup Week or the collaborative spirit of the community, she said.
Still, the lack of intense competition has its downsides. Startups looking for major funding do still have to go to California and New York to court big venture capitalist money, Roxy said, since investors aren’t as active in Washington, D.C.
But for now, there is space to test things out and build new startups in the Capital. Roxy puts it this way:
“Your success is my success, that’s the motto here,” she said.