DC Tech Incubator 1776: From the Inside Out

by Maryann Chan - Yopine

1776 DC opened its doors to tech entrepreneurs in early February 2013. Referencing a notable year in American history—the signing of the Declaration of Independence during the American Revolution—the name of the District’s new epicenter for start-up founders speaks to the, dare we say, revolutionizing projects that will be going on within its walls. But 1776 is not just shared workspace. Co-founders Evan Burfield and Donna Harris have created an accelerator program for start-ups to benefit from access to mentors, industry professionals, other start-ups, and assets that are unique to the nation’s capital. 

To get an idea of how the incubator is progressing, we spoke with co-founder Donna Harris and a few start-up founders to hear about the experiences at 1776 from some insiders. Harris, former managing director at Startup America, starts us off:

What are the first 5 things that go into a startup for startups?
Everything we do is aligned around building value for the members – things that will help them grow.  1776 is not about real estate (aka, cheap desk, no lease).  While we do provide that as one of the benefits of membership, it’s much more about the community, the content and the connections we make.  So I’d say 1 through 5 are:

  1. Connections - having the right people willing to step up and help our members
  2. Content - excellent programming so we are helping our members grow every day
  3. Community - a sense of belonging/ability to get help from high caliber peer start-ups
  4. Atmosphere - creating an expectation that if you’re a member at 1776, you’re working aggressively on growing your company, but you’re also having a heck of a lot of fun doing it
  5. Team - we would not be able to do what we’re doing for our members without an incredible team at 1776

How do you determine who makes it onto the campus?
Every potential member must fill out an application.  We do a detailed review on all applications and select those companies that have the potential to become highly scalable businesses.

How big---member-wise---do you see 1776 becoming?
We have room to expand into up to 60,000 square feet of space, so we would see anywhere north of 250 companies.

Are there any big projects or endeavors that you hope or plan to see 1776 taking on in the next few years?
Many!  Make sure to follow us (@1776dc) and signup for the newsletter on our site (www.1776dc.com) to stay in touch!

Do you see 1776 establishing a fund and getting into venture capital?

Does a startup for startups have an exit strategy?
No comment.  :-)

Next, we sat down with Josh Hurd, founder of NonprofitMetrics, to hear about his experiences as a startup. He founded his company as a solution to simplify data when his friends and colleagues complained about the cumbersome nature of looking through nonprofit information. As a graduate of Dartmouth College and the University of Chicago, former management consultant for Deloitte, and self-taught coder, Hurd shares his experiences with NonprofitMetrics at 1776 with us.

Tell me about NonprofitMetrics.
NonprofitMetrics provides business intelligence on the nonprofit sector. We help consultants, bankers, and small businesses find new nonprofit customers, make better decisions about their existing nonprofit customers, and better understand the overall nonprofit sector. For example, a web design firm is using NonprofitMetrics to strategically identify potential new customers. Similarly, a local bank is using NonprofitMetrics to help make better decisions about the loans they provide their nonprofit customers. We do this by providing detailed financial information on over 1.2M nonprofit organizations and easy-to-use tools that make this information accessible and useful.

How did you find out about 1776 and become a member of its campus?
I found out about 1776 through a mentor at Microsoft who helps NonprofitMetrics with engineering technical services and general support. He told me about 1776 back in March and said it would be a good fit considering where I was in the development of NonprofitMetrics. I ended up visiting 1776 for a couple events, talked with some folk who already work at 1776, and decided that it would be a good fit. In early April I applied, got in, and have been working here ever since.

How has 1776 fostered progress for your business?
The biggest way 1776 has helped NonprofitMetrics is through the community that exists here. I work around other startups who are in a similar situation as NonprofitMetrics, or who have already progressed and surmounted the hurdles we are currently facing and gone on to succeed. Everybody here is more than willing to grab coffee or beers and share insights on customers, provide technical expertise, or just provide an outside point of view. We help each other succeed. Colleagues here at 1776 have also put me in touch with potential customers. There are also formal mentorship opportunities at 1776, where experienced startup founders, technical experts, marketing gurus, investors, lawyers, and others come in and make themselves available through office hours and evening event. They share an incredible amount that’s incredibly insightful in developing NonprofitMetrics. For example, I had a great conversation last week with a user experience expert at LivingSocial. He took a good look at the NonprofitMetrics app and provided great recommendations on ways to improve the navigation and user experience, which I’m working to implement now.

What's it like sharing space with so many other startups? Are there advantages or disadvantages?
I just mentioned many of the advantages—there’s very much a great community where we help each other out, working to advance each other and gaining access to our collective network. As far as disadvantages go, sometimes it’s difficult to go into “heads-down” mode and get a lot of work done. It can fairly noisy with events going on, and with friends and colleagues around there’s always people you want to talk to them. It’s somewhat like a college library -- you get distracted. That’s why sometimes if I want to achieve a specific goal for the day I’ll just work from home or a coffee shop.


We also chatted with another startup founder Ron Cade to get his take on the 1776. The idea for his mobile app first surfaced when a broken printer required Cade to make a trip to FedEx in order to turn in a law school paper. He imagined how helpful it would be if someone could have done the task and delivered it for him. Enter, Urban Delivery.

Things Urban Delivery does NOT deliver:  anything illegal and babies... 

Tell me about Urban Delivery.
Urban Delivery is a next-generation platform for getting things you want delivered. In the past you could get some things delivered like pizza, packages, or cable, but you couldn’t get everything delivered. Urban Delivery: You can get anything you want, brought to you, in and out. We’ve got a fleet of couriers who are equipped with pre-paid credit cards. They go to any store in the city, buy it, and bring it to you. They’re cashless payments, and you can track them on the app so that you know exactly where they’re at. You can get your free time back.

There is such a range of different businesses here. What have you gained from 1776 that is unique to a business like Urban Delivery?
We The entrepreneurs here have really amazing products. The network and resources are awesome. We have office hours with some of the best in the industry, Drink and Learns, and mentorships. The facility in which we work is great, and the collegiality of the environment is great too.

What's the best advice you've received during office hours?  With whom have you conducted office hours?
I have gotten a lot of insight about the more intricate parts of running a business like best practices, things that other companies did, or psychological behavior in terms of consumers. They are really valuable in terms of providing perspective or if you had a specific question about something.

Would you be interested in assuming the mentor role to new startups in the future?
Well I’m definitely not the person who needs to be mentoring anybody right now. Urban Delivery is still a new startup and we have a ton of learning to do. But, yeah! One day....


With expert experience in retail and merchandising and a passion for DIY and beautifully designed items, Sonali Bloom tells us how 1776 has helped her company, Curio Road. She shares her thoughts about the events, services, and decor at the campus. 

Tell me about Curio Road.
Curio Road is an e-commerce platform focused on the discovery of unique, handmade jewelry, accessories, and lifestyle products for creative women. We curate the best of the emerging design ecosystem in the USA, and help our small-scale brand partners grow their businesses by connecting them to an audience that feels as passionately about their enterprises as we do. We aspire to be the best one-stop-shop for eclectic, one-of-a-kind gifts, fashion, and wedding products.

What drew you to 1776? What prompted you to apply and accept?
I'd had my eye on 1776 ever since I heard it was launching! I was very excited about the idea of a co-working space with such great resources - access to key mentors and industry leaders, and the potential to receive advice on many fronts. Being a part of a community of startups focused on scalability was very important to us, and we've benefitted greatly from participating in 1776 startup events.

Many of the companies here are product-oriented. Who have you been able to work with and what advice have you gotten at 1776 for your retail business?
We've had some great opportunities to partner with other startups, including SNOBSWAB and ZuriWorks. SNOBSWAP graciously invited us to be part of their Swap in the City event and run a Curio Road pop-up shop, which was very successful. ZuriWorks is partnering with us to run a fundraiser that is product-driven and will hopefully bring attention to both of our organizations. Donna Harris has been immensely helpful, both in promoting Curio Road and supporting our business herself and in providing us with incredible advice and insight, and access to key industry contacts. 

What is your level of participation in 1776 events? Are you the kind of member that enjoys office hours, drink 'n learns, roundtables, or all of the above?
I absolutely enjoy the office hours - and have been taking advantage of them, for sure! - drink 'n learns, and roundtables. I've had the opportunity to participate in roundtable discussions with Her Majesty Queen Rania of Jordan, Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez, and Congressmen Jared Polis and Darrel Issa - what a fantastic chance to share Curio Road with these leaders! I have also found that the 1776 affiliates who run office hours and drink 'n learns have amazing insights to share - I almost feel like I'm back in school, learning about things that continuously open my mind. 

You and Curio Road are into curated, beautiful products and things. How much do you appreciate the aesthetic of the campus decor?
It's fantastic. Maggie O'Neill did a beautiful job with the space - it feels unique and eclectic, and vintage-inspired, and yet modern enough to support the bourgeoning startup community. It's a great space to work on a day-to-day basis. My desk sits right in front of the circle of 13 stars (part of the American flag made of doors), so I feel like the president every day! Being in a brightly lit, airy, inspiring workspace makes it possible to work long hours and still feel inspired at the end of the night.