Meet Awesome DC’s soulmate: Proudly Made In DC


Proudly Made in DC is a new website  recently brought to my attention by my CTO.  If you are an entrepreneur, venture capitalist, and  particularly if you are a Washingtonian, you got to check them out as well as provide them with whatever support you can. Proudly Made in DC has a similar mission as my Awesome DC minus coverage  of  clubbing and partying around DC area.   The site focuses on technology and startups in the Washington, D.C. metro.  Their homepage lists all the great local startups including our own new venture, awesomize.me :-)

Let me  elaborate on my excitement about this new site by addressing the current problems with our region first, then discuss my proposed solution, and how sites like Proudly Made in DC can help to position  our Nation’s capital as a technology hub.

If you contact our census bureau, they will tell you that DC has the second highest technology population after Silicon Valley. In addition, we have the nation’s highest concentration of advanced and post graduate degrees – meaning there are more entrepreneurs in DC with advanced degrees than in Silicon Valley. So then, why are Washingtonians not even close to Silicon Valley in terms of technology, funded startups, and investment opportunities? Three reasons:

1. Our local media companies have not been particularly  supportive of the little startups these past ten years. Take the Washington Post as a classic example – they don’t provide enough coverage of our local small ventures. They mostly cover the big boys with deeper pockets, possibly in anticipation of future advertising revenue. And when they do cover a couple of the larger players like Sprint Nextel or AOL, their coverage is hardly positive. They do a good job covering government contractors though, which I think explains why 80% of all businesses in our town originate from the US government and why our government ends up buying products and services that are “proven” and have been operational for years.

The other reason I think our local media holds back from covering the little guys is their bad experience from covering startups prior to the 2001 bubble. We all know what happened then – most of them ended up shutting down. Our media may have simply concluded that it wasn’t worth their while covering startups with no future. If that is the case, it is worth noting that the same situation existed in Silicon Valley during the Web 1.0 era. But you didn’t see it stop their local media from covering the startups popping up throughout their region.

2. Our Venture Capital Community has never been as involved with their portfolio companies. Their classic mistake is asking entrepreneurs the financial and business model question during the very first meeting.

Don’t bother. Most first-time, young entrepreneurs lack business and financial experience. They typically have an idea and have built only the prototype. If interested, like most VCs in Silicon Valley, you need to a) Do your own part to evaluate the market and its potential for the product, and b) Tap into your rolodex and help them bring in the business-minded management team to execute the company’s vision. This way, the entrepreneur/founder focuses on the technology. So, spare them the business questions. Unless they intend to stay as the CEO or you intend for them to stay on as the CEO.

3. There have been only a few great local entrepreneurs from Web 1.0 era like Mark Walsh, Steve Case and Doug Humphrey helping new entrepreneurs in the Web 2.0 climate, but given the number of potential entrepreneurs our local schools – University of Maryland, the George Washington University, Virginia Tech – matriculate annually, we need many more successful mentors active in the community. This “grooming” deficit has contributed to a shortage in quality managers who are supposed to run our region’s emerging growth companies.

I believe a combination of these factors have been killing the culture of risk that existed in the 80’s and 90’s in the DC area. We tend to be more conservative on this cost anyway – it doesn’t help that a budding entrepreneur coming out of our finest universities has to weigh the benefits of operating solo in this unpromising environment with tossing his/her hat in with an established firm offering a good starting salary. Referring to my earlier comment about DC with highest concentration in the country of advanced and post graduate degrees compare to the people in Silicon Valley, think about it. Why would someone who has invested many years of his or her life in an advanced degree program, wants to risk it to start a new company as supposed to working for a well established company with a much higher pay. It is easier for a person to take such risk if he/she has not gone through all that years of schooling. just a thought.

In terms of a solution, we need some robust team work between our universities, VCs, local media, bloggers and the certainly sites like Proudly Made in DC. Here is my message to each one of them:

1. Local media – large and small alike – need to place more value on coverage of startups. They may not have the advertising dollars to help your revenue stream initially, but with your support, many of them will in future. So, think big PLEASE. We need you as much as you need us.

2. The VC community needs to lighten focus on Excel spread sheets and la-la land exit strategies and hone in on ideas, technology, market potential and entrepreneurial je ne sais quoi. Do your homework on our inventions and craft your own analysis of its business potential. Then, use your own business and financial experience to identify key executive hires like the CEO, CFO and VP of sales. As an entrepreneur – particularly a first time entrepreneur – don’t depend on our vision of an exit strategy to close your deal. We have probably never done it, and are dreaming a Google dream on your dime.

3. Washingtonian Bloggers… if our online media and VCs drop the ball, it is your job and mine to create the buzz desperately needed by our startups – blog, baby, blog. Stay positive though. We need to work with our local universities on this.

4. Local universities – particularity the University of Maryland, the George Washington University, Virginia Tech, and George Mason University – all offer some sort of entrepreneurial program. Well, please ramp it up. I myself am a member of the GWU NAC (George Washington University National Advisory Council) and am working on several initiatives on this matter.

So, please check out Proudly Made in DC and let us know what you think of them.

Feel free to connect with me via awesomize.me

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About Elias Shams
I have been a serial entrepreneur in telecom and social media space for past 12 years or so. I hold a M.S. degree in Telecommunication Engineering from the George Washington University and a B.S. degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Maryland. I’ve lived and worked in many countries and cities including London England, Tehran Iran, Bonn Germany, Paris France, Alicante Spain, Delhi India, and my favorite of all Washington, DC of great US of A. Two of the greatest Washington, DC based companies I worked for and very proud of are Yurie Systems which was sold to Lucent in 1998 for $1.23 B and telezoo.com that I founded in 1999. I am currently the founder and awesomizer @ awesomize.me

3 Responses to Meet Awesome DC’s soulmate: Proudly Made In DC

  1. Caleb Parker says:

    Great article! I agree, the start-up community does not have enough support, though the atmosphere in the DC area is ripe for entrepreneurs with great ideas.

    I’m glad you mentioned the media. My firm is launching a new publication that will have a focus in DC area start-ups. The lack of coverage is threatening to the community when entrepreneurs are the ones who create jobs.

    Great job Elias!

    • Elias Shams says:

      Thanks Caleb. Here is a recent classic example – as you know, I launched awesomize.me last month. With not much promotion, there are already 150 companies and over 1500 users using it in just one and half month after the launch. I can’t get the attention of any big local media to cover us nor attention of the VC. Instead, they yap about the misery AOL or Clearwire are going through. They cover the $30 M contract SAIC got form DoD and craps like that. So, we GOT TO SUPPORT sites like Proudly Made in DC. I have given up on our local VCs and media till they pull their head out of their ass and see the true potentials in the DC area.

      • Caleb Parker says:

        Amen! I also think it’s important to remember the start-up community is not just tech companies. There are a lot of really cool technology based entrepreneurs, but tech is not the only industry in the DC area start-up community. As a whole, we have to support each other…

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