A Step Forward For D.C.'s Technology Startups

In November, three local technology and media executives joined to form LaunchBoxDigital's LaunchBox08, an incubation program for start-ups. The goal was to offer people starting technology and new media companies what they needed to get off the ground -- money -- and then the advice they needed to succeed. The company attracted pledges of support -- in terms of time, if not money -- from notable local technology executives, such as AOL vice chairman emeritus Ted Leonsis.

Now, the group is moving a step forward to getting this plan off the ground. LaunchBox has announced it has collected $250,000 from Jonathan Miller, former AOL chief executive; Reed Hundt, former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission; Raul Fernandez, chief executive of Object Video; and Chris Schroeder, the chief executive of HealthCentral.

Over the course of a summer, LaunchBox Digital will hold a program for six to 10 startups, each receiving about $30,000 and help with their business plans. In exchange, LaunchBox will get 4 to 8 percent of equity in the startups that succeed.

LaunchBox is asking for applications by March 14. The program is expected to start in May and last about 12 weeks.

The incubation model is based in part on YCombinator, a group in Silicon Valley and Cambridge that has had success doing the same. If successful in the Washington region, it could lend a hand in strengthening the Web 2.0 community that has been percolating lately.

The three founders of LaunchBox includes Julius Genachowski, formerly a top executive at Barry Diller's IAC; online entrepreneur Sean Greene; and John McKinley, a former chief technology officer at AOL.

"There's a capital gap for early-stage companies at a time of great opportunity. Costs are coming down and platforms are proliferating," Genachowski told me a few months ago. "We came to the conclusion that there was real talent in this region, but beyond that, they didn't have access to the first step."

Separately, LaunchBox is looking to invest seed money in startups that are a little more mature and are not seeking an incubation program.

It has made its first investment: in Lookery, a Web 2.0 ad targeting company. Here's how the company describes itself: "We're working to fix the basic economic problem that social networks face: great user profiling but unpredictable ad inventory. We make it safe and easy for social networks to distribute their data as targeting information outside their web sites, in order to make money in partnership with web sites that have great inventory but little or no user targeting information."

However, LaunchBox's investment in Lookery didn't exactly fit its original goal of cultivating the East Coast tech scene. Lookery is based in San Francisco.

Okay, D.C. is not the only tech town still maturing.

The buzz in tech circles is often about the ability of the Washington region to build on the heavy presence of government contractors. The loss of the headquarters of AOL and Sprint over the past few months didn't help. But it seems some other places also think about similar issues.

I noticed in a recent issue of New York magazine this little nugget--published after the Giants' defeat of the Patriots in the Super Bowl.

"Underdogtown: A History. New York has rarely found itself in the position the Giants were in--the never-say-die also-ran. But it's not unheard-of."


AOL (with an image of skyscrapers signifying New York)
vs.
Google (with the Golden Gate Bridge signifying the search company's home)

Rival: The Bay Area.
Period of conflict: Fin du vingtieme siecle.
Why were they favored: Silicon Valley; Stanford; Xerox's famed Palo Alto Research Center
Did we triumph against all odds? Not really, though we more or less adapted.
Why/Why not? New York's biggest bet was on AOL; we're a media and finance city, not a tech city.

By Zachary Goldfarb  |  February 22, 2008; 10:00 AM ET  | Category:  TechPost
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Comments

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Zachary,

This is great coverage of a great group! Hopefully LaunchBoxDigital will resume its local focus and find much success in the DC area!

Cheers.

Posted by: Jared Goralnick | February 22, 2008 3:08 PM

I have to say that has a local start-up who was turned down by LaunchBox Digital - finding out they funded a company in San Fransisco really burns me. It's extremely disappointing to find that out when they're trying to get the trust of the local community.

Posted by: Ann Bernard | February 22, 2008 4:09 PM

Thanks for the Lookery mention. I'm one of the co-founders.

Lookery is actually a virtual company. My partner is based in San Francisco but I'm based in Boston, MA along with our engineering and operations groups.

Cheers,
David

Posted by: David Cancel | February 22, 2008 4:45 PM

As David (who is based near Boston) said, thanks for the mention. We've got a few job openings currently. We'd be more than happy to hire DC-based folks to fill them. Check out our blog for more info.

Also, Julius and John are certain to call us up out west and in Boston to support their other companies as the portfolio builds up. Having an informal ambassador or two in each tech cluster can only help the overall effort.

Posted by: Scott Rafer | February 22, 2008 5:26 PM

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