What’s missing from this great round up of creative and enterprising Borderstan entrepreneurs? Women. One group is helping to change the face of local business in 2013. Enter Her Corner, a new DC-based company helping to bring women business owners together through personal, face-to-face relationships to build, grow and support one another’s businesses.
Her Corner builds hyper-local and personal networks for women entrepreneurs who are committed to growing their businesses. Founded by Frederique Campagne Irwin, a local entrepreneur with an extensive background in management consulting and several startups of her own, Her Corner was originally begun two years ago as a resource for Irwin who sought greater opportunities for networking and peer support in her own career.
It quickly took on a life of its own, launching as a full scale enterprise in August and receiving more than 400 applications from prospective members in its first two weeks.
“It’s an opportunity to grow your business by meeting other women like you who are near you,” Frederique says.
Based around neighborhoods, groups have been formed in Georgetown, Cleveland Park, Arlington and Chevy Chase, among other places. For Borderstan women, Her Corner is launching a Dupont-centered group in January. There are also ample online opportunities and a bi-monthly speaker series held in partnership with American University’s Kogod School of Business.
Many of us are familiar with the numerous career networking events going on all over town – even ones geared specifically toward women. Her Corner is unique in that it is a network of and by women entrepreneurs, meeting in each other’s homes and dedicated to helping other women succeed in starting and growing women-owned businesses.
That intimate setting leads to a natural conversation – rather than a forced, aggressive, in-your-face exchange of business cards – about each member’s business, how group members can help, who they can introduce each other to, and how each member can become more successful. Irwin says much of Her Corner’s style comes from the differences between the way men and women network.
In her experience, women thrive in an environment that is naturally focused on mentoring and advising each other — without sharp elbows. These personal conversations lead to deeper connections and help build the social capital that many first-time women entrepreneurs lack. Frederique notes, “As women, we don’t build businesses for the same reasons or in the same way as men — we’re no less ambitious but just doing it differently.”
She is focused on growth for Her Corner as much as she is focused on growing each of her member’s businesses. She hopes to expand networking groups beyond DC to other cities in the near future. So, for all you women out there who run your own business, make your new year’s resolution worthwhile and get involved with a network of like-minded women. Here are three upcoming Her Corner events to check out:
- January 3 at 8 pm: Dupont Circle information session. Her Corner’s founders will host a conference call for prospective members to share more details about the benefits and requirements of joining. Click here for more information.
- January 4 10 am to noon: Her Corner open discussion and coffee. On the first Friday of every month, Frederique hosts an open coffee for current and prospective members and for any budding entrepreneurs who want to learn more about starting a new business. Click here for details.
- February 7: Speaker series at AU’s Kogod School featuring Hulya Aksu, founder of Modern DC Business Magazine. Find out more here about the speaker series.
During 2012 Nick Barron interviewed a number of entrepreneurs who are making of DC a hub of startups and one of the most interesting places to start your own business.
- Thomas Sanchez and Anthony Shop of Social Driver.
- Zvi Band of Contactually.
- Sajad Ghanizada and Andrew Mason from EventStir.
- Adam Bonnifield of Spinnakr.
- Lee Finkel from LookThink.
- The Duke & The Duck, Alex Herder and Dave Ellington.
- Justin McLeod of Hinge.
- Fundrise and its co-founder, Ben Miller
You walk into a restaurant with a couple of friends. The hostess greets you by name, asks if you want your regular table.
Your friends are impressed. They want to know why you’re getting the royal treatment.
“Oh, I own this place,” you say. “And it only cost me $50.”
This is the kind of story Fundrise and its co-founder, Ben Miller, want to help make happen in DC and across the U.S.
Fundrise is crowdfunding for real estate. Through the site you can buy into a piece of property, and can potentially earn money back, over time, on that investment.
Ben and his brother, Daniel, started the site, part of Rise Companies, which has eight full-time employees and also owns the site Popularise, to give more people a chance at participating in real estate investment.
Ben also hopes Fundrise allows people to have a greater sense of ownership in their community.
“It’s a tool for building communities,” Ben said. “So everyone can participate in investing in real estate and building their environment.”
Through Fundrise you can buy units, or shares, of a real estate investment.
The first such investment was 1351 H Street, a limited liability corporation representing property on H Street NE, which will house a business operated by the people behind DURKL and Toki Underground. The business is expected to open in Spring 2013.
While you will reap financial rewards of owning a piece of property through Fundrise, Ben cautions in real estate a return on investment can take time.
“It’s [Real estate’s] the opposite of Wall Street,” Ben said.
Along with another piece of someone’s investment portfolio, Ben sees Fundrise empowering people to greater participation in their communities.
“Who has the power to build neighborhoods?” Ben asks.
The answer, according to Ben and Daniel, is you.
It’s a late summer night and DC is headed home after work. Not so for the 70-plus people who’ve filled every corner of a Dupont townhouse. Pizza and beer await, once they check-in with Sajad Ghanizada, who verifies their attendance to the event through EventStir.
EventStir is what made the gathering, a happy hour for the Meetup group, DC Nightowls, possible in the first place. The Dupont based startup, founded by Andrew Mason and Ghanizada, lets you plan an event that only takes place if a certain number of people pay in advance.
EventStir not only keeps you from getting stuck with a big bill, it allows you to only pay for an event with a guaranteed minimum attendance. “We’re really selling event ideas,” Mason said. “EventStir was built as a platform to test concepts and see if enough people are interested.”
So far, EventStir has helped make everything from the camping trip among friends to a Potomac yacht cruise a reality. The cruise, a launch party for investors and area entrepreneurs, was how EventStir introduced itself to the world.
“We wanted to prove crowdfunding events could work by testing an over the top example,” Ghanizada said. If EventStir can make a party on a boat possible, Mason’s and Ghanizada’s thinking goes, then EventStir can help bring almost any event idea from concept to reality!
The startup itself may not have happened had it not been for a serendipitous meeting last November at Startup Weekend. Both Ghanizada and Mason, who didn’t know each other at the time, pitched similar event-focused ideas.
Mason pitched first, and Ghanizada thought his thunder had been stolen. “But the guys at the table I was sitting with said, ‘Pitch it anyway,'” Ghanizada said. “‘You never know what might happen.'” Ghanizada did pitch his idea, then he and Mason teamed up, grabbed some developers and started building the foundation for EventStir.
Three weeks later they left their jobs. A few months after they launched their product on a yacht, and now an increasing number of events are being scheduled through the site.
EventStir is currently focused on serving DC, but it may soon be spreading to other cities. In fact, right now anyone anywhere can use it to host a private event.
In Borderstan’s northeast corner, a collection of people pay for the privilege of sharing chairs and desks. This concept is known as a co-working space; and this particular space is called Affinity Lab. Housed in a small building near 9th and U Streets NW, Affinity Lab is the office for people working for themselves.
Originally located in Adams Morgan, Affinity Lab has been around for 11 years. However, since the business relocated to its current U Street NW location in 2010, it’s grown significantly. Affinity Lab’s success can be attributed to a number of things, including its interest in building a social and professional community.
Another reason for its growth: the Lab’s new location. “Some of the success of this location is the fact that it’s so close to the metro,” said Lauren Hodge of Affinity Lab. “It’s kind of at a really good spot on U Street to be a part of things that are changing and growing and evolving rapidly.”
How Affinity Lab works for its customers
People pay to join Affinity Lab because it offers a community for what often can be a lonely road, that of the entrepreneur. Along with a spot to work, wireless Internet, a printer and shared conference rooms, Affinity also offers its members a connection with others running their own businesses.
A listserv of about 200 people routinely circulates a range of opportunities for both current and past Affinity members. “The listserv is a kind of trusted YellowPages if you will,” said Hodge. “People use it to get or to give value.”
Affinity has three membership levels, ranging from those for entrepreneurs who need a set working space to what’s called virtual memberships. The latter is what a majority of members pay for at Affinity. “They’re (virtual members) people who may keep a home office or who may work out of Starbucks,” said Hodge. “For them this is basically an opportunity for them to get plugged in, but they don’t need a physical desk.”
Members of the Lab range from designers to nonprofits. The only restriction Affinity places on who can be a member is how well someone’s mentality fits with being in a co-working space. “You know if you fit here,” said Hodge.
Judging by the buzz of activity on a weekday afternoon, a lot of Borderstan’s entrepreneurs seem to fit just fine at Affinity.
Borderstan welcomes new contributor Nick Barron. He will be writing about local entrepreneurs and startup companies. He also writes about ideas and thinking big at NickBarron.co serves as an Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner for 2F/Logan Circle. Follow him on Twitter @nbarron; email him at nick[AT]borderstan.com.
Who said DC is not a town for start-ups? Well, Social Driver, a local social media, mobile app and website development company has put that theory to the test.
Two years ago, Social Driver wasn’t even a dream.
Back then, Thomas Sanchez was busy consulting in social media and technology, while Anthony Shop was obtaining his MBA at George Washington University. Both Sanchez and Shop were new to DC, and both could count on one hand the number of people they knew in the area.
However, Sanchez networked tirelessly and finally had a Rolodex so large he started helping large public relations agencies fill a niche in the services they offered. Then it hit him: Sanchez realized that he had a budding agency on his hands, and he asked the new MBA graduate, Shop, to be his partner in a new business. Once Sanchez and Shop set-up shop (now formally called Social Driver, a social media, mobile app and website development company), the two District residents established a goal for where the business should be in a year.
Only, they didn’t hit that initial goal; they exceeded it.
Last summer, Sanchez and Shop made their first hire. Since then, the small start-up has hired six additional full-time employees and is setting to leave its Dupont office for a larger space in Chinatown. Social Driver’s growth means Sanchez and Shop are letting employees handle clients so they can focus more on the agency’s culture, an aspect that is important in both producing great work and attracting qualified employees willing to generate a quality product and expand the company.
One way in which Sanchez and Shop are working to achieve a cutting-edge work culture (particularly one that favors a work-life balance) is by instituting an unlimited vacation policy. “When you go on vacation, do not check your email,'” said Shop when describing the ideal work life for his employees.
The two partners plan on keeping the company private (meaning they have no equity in the company to offer employees) and plan to offer alternative promotions. “What people want is more responsibility,” Sanchez said. “They want to be able to learn more and take on new challenges.”
Despite its success, Social Driver’s growth has not been free from trials and tests. “DC is good for some types of businesses, but not good for other types of businesses,” said Sanchez, adding limited office space makes it difficult for large companies, particularly in Borderstan. “You’re at a limit in terms of size in DC,” said Sanchez.
Sanchez and Shop also have tales of bureaucratic snafus of difficulties with DC’s local government. “There’s no consistency,” said Sanchez. “One part of the city doesn’t know what the other part of the city is doing.”
Still, Social Driver is committed to helping the city get it right. After all, the company’s clients and employees live in DC, and both Sanchez and Shop are optimistic about DC being a better host to startups.
“One exciting thing about DC is incentives for tech-based businesses – That makes it better for us to do business in the District,” said Shop.