The DC tech startup community has a chip on its shoulder. That’s not a bad thing; it motivates entrepreneurs and area leaders committed to advancing the interests of the DC tech community to fight for respect. This respect can assume many forms, including funding, an available pool of highly educated, skilled workers, or just positive publicity and attention relative to Silicon Valley, New York, Boston and other tech hubs that seem to glisten more in the eyes of venture capitalists and industry pontificators.
As I networked and dined at MAVA’s annual holiday luncheon last week and reflected on the week that was in the local tech space, a scene from Jerry Maguire popped into my head. It was when Tom Cruise and Kelly Preston feed each other breakfast in the buff. Ok, that’s not the scene, but figured I’d throw it in there to make sure everyone is paying attention. It was Jerry Maguire racing home after the football game, bearing his soul to his wife, and exclaiming, “Tonight…our little company had a very big night. A very, very big night.” The flurry of venture capital raise announcements by local companies last week in fact represents a very, very big week for the DC tech community.
The three venture capital raises undermined a prevailing but increasingly antiquated notion that technology innovation emerging from the nation’s capital is government-skewed, exclusively b2b or, for lack of a better word, boring. Optoro, a startup that caught my eye approximately five years ago as a presenting company at a MAVA event, announced a $50 million funding raise on December 10th. The company stood out to me that day because the business model was simple (heck, even I could understand it which is no easy task) and it was clear to everyone in the room what the industry pain point was (retailers were not efficiently and cost-effectively able to sell excess and returned inventory), and that Optoro has developed a very clever way to address it (a cloud-based, multi-channel selling technology enabling retailers to optimally manage their reverse logistics).
The day before Optoro announced its massive funding raise, marketing software firm TrackMaven snagged a $14M Series B round from NEA, Bowery Capital, Silicon Valley Bank and others. TrackMaven is striking a chord with overwhelmed digital marketers seeking products to help better track and act on relevant data related to earned media, SEO, ads, content marketing and social media efforts.
The final venture capital raise last week is a company I’ve been privileged enough to call a client for the past several years – Canvas. The Reston-based company, which raised $9 million, has quickly emerged as the global leader in mobile apps for collecting and sharing business information. Canvas is truly disrupting how work gets done by enabling businesses to replace expensive and inefficient paper forms and processes with customizable mobile apps for smartphones and tablets, with no programming or IT required. There are also now more than 15,000 apps in the Canvas mobile business application store – apps that can easily be downloaded, customized and shared by Canvas’ growing community of partners and subscribers.
Not only do these funding raises reflect the diversity of startups and challenger brands that now call the DC area home, but also strengthens the region’s global position. Canvas’ Jason Ganz reaffirmed as much in his recent blog post that analyzed every startup funding round the last ten years. Among several compelling pieces of data, Ganz calculated that the DC region has 138 funding rounds listed so far in 2014 – making it the 7th highest region for startup funding globally. For the sake of comparison, there were 52 area funding rounds in 2009 and 157 funding rounds last year.
It was a very, very big week for the Greater Washington technology community, one that holds the promise for even greater activity and growth next year.