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The Directions of Innovation in Washington, DC

Innovation and entrepreneurship might not be the first terms that come to mind when thinking of the region in the US that is commonly referred to as the ‘DMV’ (ie, the District of Columbia and adjacent parts of Maryland and Virginia). These geographic locations are tightly intertwined to create the ecosystem that is the US Federal Government. The DMV's perceived lack of innovation is most likely rooted in the bureaucratic nature of government itself, which is thought to go against ideals such as creativity, accepting high levels of risk, and adaptability/flexibility – all key ingredients necessary for a start-up culture to thrive, regardless of geographic location.

Perhaps surprising to those outside the DC region or even those in the DMV but not working in or with technology, the DMV does, in fact, have a vibrant and very active technology and innovation underbelly to it. Further, there are various manifestations of innovation due to the differing end-goals that each manifestation is trying to achieve – the ‘directions of innovation’, if you will. In no particular order, here is an explanation of each direction as we see it:

  • US Federal Government Adoption of Commercially-Available Technology (bringing 'outside' technology 'in'): A quick drive down the roadways that make up the "Dulles Corridor" shows how all the top tech brands with headquarters based in other parts of the country have invested in a physical presence here; names such as Google, Microsoft, Apple and Amazon, to name a few. Tech start-ups have also managed to find a home in the DMV, whether through establishing local offices like their larger tech counterparts, or working with technology resellers that are specialized in doing business exclusively with the US Federal Government. Outside of working with resellers, tech start-ups have the alternative option of working with federal-oriented VC firms such as national security-focused In-Q-Tel (IQT) in order to bring their innovation solutions to the federal audience. Palantir is probably the best example of a once IQT-backed company that went on to have an amazing success story.

  • Commercializing Government-created Intellectual Property (IP) for Private Sector Use (bringing 'inside' technology 'out)': The scope of Federal-created IP is enormous and encompasses a wide range of technologies. Many in the technology sector would proffer that the benefits to commercialization are endless and mutually beneficial. Specific federal entities that AIC is aware of that offer IP to the commercial industry include NASA, DoE, and DARPA. For those eager to mine the government’s vast IP gems but are unsure of how to transform such IP into a viable business, H.S. Dracones is a company that can orient you in the right direction.

  • Application of Government Tradecraft to the Formation of New Businesses with Associated IP Developed Organically (not IP derived from the government): Over the last few years, AIC has had the pleasure of working with multiple companies that were founded by engineers and analysts from the US Intelligence Community and Department of Defense. These professionals served with distinction but didn’t necessarily take government IP out the door with them when they transitioned from federal service. What the founders of these companies did take, however, was their tradecraft, using it as the foundation upon which to create new IP and associated start-up business models. An excellent example of a company that fits the mold referenced above is GeoSpark Analytics. Founded and run by by multiple professionals from the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency (NGA), GeoSpark shares their geospatial intelligence (GEOINT) tradecraft with the world through their software platform that "empowers its customers to understand what is happening everywhere on the globe and why."

For the trained eye, the DMV is an emerging hotspot of innovation where businesses can harness the vast and varying modalities of innovative experience. Please don't hesitate to contact us if we can help you with any and all things pertaining to the intersection of innovation and government here in the DMV.

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