TechPost: Washington's Twin Tech Towns
Here's Zach Goldfarb's weekly update on the local technology scene.
In a way, the timing could not have been more perfect.
On Wednesday night, from about six to nine, the local technology community came out in full force -- but in two very different places.
On a tony street in McLean, at the home of business leader Bobbie Kilberg, local technology executives gathered for the Northern Virginia Technology Council's "Hot Ticket Party," an annual celebration of companies generating the "hottest buzz" or having the "hottest management team."
Ten miles away, hundreds of players in the local social media scene -- people who spend their lives on Facebook, MySpace and other Web crazes -- packed the third floor of the Connecticut Avenue club MCCXXIII-Spank to drink, exchange business cards and mingle with a few visiting Web celebrities.
It was striking -- there was almost no overlap between the two parties, the people who attended, the companies that were represented. In essence, it was the two sides of the Washington technology coin. On one side were the established technology companies, many of them serving the government and business customers -- and on the other were the young start-ups hoping to make it big in a Web 2.0 world.
Though many attendees of the NVTC affair donned tropical attire, it was decidedly a more formal event, with many silver-haired executives running their second or third technology company.
By contrast, at MCCXXIII, it looked like any old night out on the bar scene. Many of these people were regulars on the social media beat, people who had gone out on a limb to form their own Web companies, worked as the Web gurus at companies around town, blogged everyday or just liked to Facebook-poke and Twitter-tweet.
I showed up at the NVTC event in McLean around 5:30. I parked myself -- didn't use the valet -- though I couldn't help but notice four consecutive BMWs parked near the house. My first visit was with Kilberg, who has long headed the NVTC.
"The gathering here is to celebrate entrepreneurship. We have a lot of young and exciting entrepreneurial companies," she told me. "It shows you the spirit of young companies is going to grow here."
Indeed, executives at the party run extraordinarily sophisticated technology companies, the kind that powers along Washington's economy, even if understanding exactly what they do is not an easy thing.
Tonight, a few judges were to select winning companies for "hottest buzz" or "hottest bootstrap" (paying one's own way in forming a company) and a few other categories.
I talked to David Coxe, a top executive of Criterion Systems, a candidate for hottest bootstrap. He said his Tysons Corner firm's major clients were in the government, particularly the intelligence community.
"The solutions we typically bring to the market are involving service-oriented architecture, high-end data fusion, and security," he said.
Okay, sounds important. Next.
I talked to Kevin Shahbazi, who runs Avocado Security of Fairfax.
"We convert video surveillance to business intelligence graphs and charts," he said.
What I took from these conversations and a few others is that the companies by and large represented at the NVTC party were very typical Washington firms -- serving businesses and the government. They might be important generators of economic activity, but sure feel remote from what's hip in technology these days. One big exception: The winner of "Hottest Buzz" award: Clearspring, a McLean firm that makes Web widgets.
I soon zoomed down to MCCXXIII to get to the social media party. The party had as guests well-known Web guys Gary Vaynerchuk and Robert Scoble and was hosted by a few local active social media groups.
MCCXXIII's third floor has a pretty unique flair -- what with the beds, adorned with silver platters, serving as couches.
In one corner, the folks from iStrategy Labs, a social media consulting company, were holding on-camera interviews with attendees.
It became clear at the party that the local social media community is growing fast and has enthusiastic members who are bound to evangelize on behalf of their companies and their community.
I visited with Doug March of McLean start-up Mixx, a community news-sharing site that's gotten quite a bit of attention. He told me that his company had just launched a section of the site where organizations can create networks around news topics and customize the look of the networks with logos and such.
He came to the party, he said, to spread that news as well as "to spread social media ... I'm all about spreading the social word."
No one was more enthusiastic than Shana Glickfield, also known as the blogger D.C. Concierge, a project she runs outside of her usual work for a public affairs firm.
Glickfield said "I started getting involved in the networking scene ... [and] I found such an amazing, supportive community."
She continued, "We get together a lot in person and online ... Everybody takes really good care of each other ... That's why I like to stay connected and see who else turns up an event ... There's always someone with a new startup and a new idea I'm excited to hear about."
Come back Monday for video interviews from both events.
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