#Obviously DC West Coast Mission Trip

The Capital of Inclusive Innovation went West.

As the #4 best place to live in the U.S. and the #1 city for women in tech, Washington, DC is a leader in inclusive innovation and resiliency. Through the #ObviouslyDC West Coast Trade Mission, District delegates traveled to Los Angeles, San Francisco, Palo Alto, and Portland to share insight, build partnerships, and spark innovation.

The District delegation, made up of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development, Brian Kenner, and notable representatives from the private and public sector including 1776, SEED Spot, The Marathon Foundation, Events DC, the Washington, DC Economic Partnership, and more, translated DC’s work of inclusive innovation through roundtables, panel discussions, brainstorming sessions and tours.

As the group traveled through Los Angeles, Palo Alto, San Francisco and Portland, we exchanged handshakes and smiles - but most importantly, crafted new strategies and seeded partnerships that could make our city even better.

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Alley powered by Verizon

The District was intentional, and it showed. In Palo Alto, we partnered with Alley by Verizon to share how we approach Inclusive Investment: Increasing Access to Capital for Diverse Founders.” Alongside  Kenyan McDuffie, Ward 5 Councilmember, Kristina Serafin Pandis, Investment Director at Verizon Ventures, and Kevin Morgan, Director of Tech Sector Attraction and Retention at the DC Economic Partnership, I shared how the challenge of access to capital is not a new one for women and minority companies -- and it’s time our attention focuses on solutions since the problem is so readily defined. The first survey on Black-owned businesses was conducted in 1944, and the biggest challenge noted then was a lack of financial capital. In 2019, the same tone rings true among women owned businesses as well. In DC, we mentioned the need to change perceptions of risk among underestimated entrepreneurs, and how organizations like BEACON: The D.C. Women Founders Initiative use technology and ecosystem building to open-up channels to networks of financial capital. Further, the city is changing - notable startups like Living Social got their start here, and DC’s transit-friendly economy has been an impactful initial customer for innovations like Uber, Lyft now - electric scooters. “DC no longer hole in donut for technology and innovation for region and no longer a sleepy government town,” shared Councilmember McDuffie.

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Pivotal Labs, San Francisco

Later in the week, I sat with three women tech founders at Pivotal Labs. In partnership with Alice, Pathways to Opportunity: How Local Ecosystems Help Women Entrepreneurs Thrive,” amplified the journeys of three women actively navigating San Francisco and Washington, DC’s entrepreneurial ecosystems. The conversation compared the city’s differing approaches - noting how San Francisco/Oakland’s efforts around diversity are present but fragmented, and many of the conversations more commonplace in DC are just beginning to seep into some Bay-area board rooms. Angelic Williams, founder of MyUmbrella - a social networking app providing a safe platform for the LGBT community, explained how the Bay had clear advantages based on the proximity to certain events and location of investors, while Kimberly Moore, founder of Go2Together - a transport solution for schools and families, noted how the community network of DC helped her transition from corporate career to tech entrepreneurship with a community of support.

In both cities, though, Williams explained how “investors are missing out on something if [their] networks all look the same.”  To her point and in reference to audience questions, I shared how local governments serve as a catalyst for that change, specifically by amplifying and supporting those champions for inclusion on the ground.

The mission out West would not have been complete without visits to Google and Backstage Capital. Through Google’s Tech Exchange (formerly Howard West) we witnessed cross-country exchange in practice, as HBCU computer science students spent a semester or more in entrepreneurial training in the startup breeding ground of Silicon Valley. Further, Backstage Capital shared their strategy to connect underestimated entrepreneurs to capital and international networks through their soon-to-launch accelerator program, and also illuminated opportunities for ecosystem drivers to be more connected so to capture un-selected or not-yet-ready deal flow.

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Backstage Capital

What stood out most for me throughout this expedition was the unified nature of DC’s approach to inclusive innovation.

As we are actively building and testing out strategies, we also engage with others to share best practices on the ground. We admit we’re not perfect but we try to find solutions to those shortcomings and, most importantly, we do so honestly in by not only walking the walk - but talking the talk, as the DC delegation represented 45% women and 59% people of color, a visual vacation to the predominantly white and male networks of Silicon Valley.

D Wilson