Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Why Innovation Thrives Throughout the Washington, DC Region

Geographies with thriving technology, software and telecommunications communities share a number of key attributes. 

One such characteristic is the presence of a collection of market leading companies that serve as a breeding ground for executive talent.  In the Washington, DC region, past innovators such as AOL and MCI once filled that role.  They spawned a myriad of spin-outs and start-ups, which helped create an eco-system of innovation.

Today, government focused systems integrators such as Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Booz Allen Hamilton, as well as fast risers like Living Social, Merchant Link and Broadsoft provide the ideal environment for the cultivation of the next generation of business and technical leaders.

Additionally, centers of technology are populated with a capital community – from angel investors, venture funds and private equity firms to investment bankers who help entrepreneurs realize a successful financial exit.

Washington, DC scores high in access to funding.  Consider the membership ranks of professional organizations like the Mid-Atlantic Venture Association (MAVA) and the Association for Corporate Growth (ACG).  Executives with a bold idea, a credible business plan and a track record of execution typically find funding in town.

Finally, one vital – yet often overlooked – ingredient necessary for technology to take off in a region is the presence of high quality, research oriented universities.  Think of the impact Stanford has in Silicon Valley or how MIT and Harvard define Boston.

Again, the Washington, DC region shows well when it comes to colleges that flood our business community with trained talent and viable ideas.

The University of Maryland, College Park is a prime example.  While the business school and engineering program typically bask in the accolades, there are also less profile initiatives with a comparable level of benefit for the region.

For the past decade, the University of Maryland has fielded a team to compete in a global competition called the Solar Decathlon.  Pulling students from multiple areas of study, including architecture, business, medicine, engineering and journalism, Maryland’s solar decathletes are charged with the design and construction of a house that meets the most stringent levels of environmental sustainability.

With funding provided by the US Department of Energy, as well as a handful of corporate sponsors, Maryland’s team will unveil its eco-friendly house this month for formal judging.  The competition includes collegiate teams from the across the United States, plus countries like Canada, Belgium and New Zealand.

Win or lose, many of the 30 plus students who comprise the university’s Solar Decathlon team will enter the Washington, DC’s region work force primed to a contribute in a meaningful way.

And we’re all the better off because of it. 

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