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Why DC Needs Federalpreneurship

September 25, 2013

The Social Enterprise Formula

When you look around the United States and beyond to many corners of the globe, there are characteristics and ingredients that point the way to cities that stimulate social enterprise. These cities have physical, legal, financial, social and cultural infrastructure, to name just a few, that laid a foundation for this enterprise activity and the scale to which it grows and prospers. Some cities seem predisposed, with an inherent combination of these building blocks that create the social enterprise playing field; some had to strategically create that combination or react to a trigger that pushed the social enterprise playing field along. Let’s call that the Social Enterprise Formula. Each city may have a slightly different formula that perpetuates certain types of social enterprises and/or other types of activity. The variations on the formula are many. Where does that leave DC?

One of These Things is Not Like the Other

The one thing that DC has that no other city in the United States has is the gigantic mass of the federal government. Some may say that mass is too big, some may say it is not big enough. Most of us would probably agree that it is not nimble enough; that it is not entrepreneurial enough. But what the federal government should be doing is bringing an ingredient to the DC city formula that is a catalyst for social enterprise. Let’s call that Federalpreneurship. As a global capital, Washington DC already has momentum in a similar fashion to Berlin, London or Rio de Janeiro. But it could have more. That’s where the federal government, working in a concerted and strategic way with the DC government, could make itself more of a social enterprise city.

Beltway Bandits Abound

We all know that our fair city on the Potomac is surrounded by consultants, contractors and firms of a wide variety that exist to support the federal government activity. And then there are the government agencies themselves. Why not create a social enterprise environment that puts the often-unique genius of social enterprise together with its nimbleness to support the work of these larger firms and the agencies? Without taking into account the actual mission and services of the federal agencies that could be carried out in a new and better way, there are the practical support services that need acceleration and scaling. Where do we source food services? What about day care and alternative health, fitness and wellness suppliers? Why not IT and tech providers that focus on a social impact mission? The list goes on. But we need to provide the healthy environment for those enterprises.

The Social Enterprise City

Creating the environment that stimulates this activity is not easy and it will not happen overnight. And I certainly don’t have all the answers. But we should do it. This is the start of a conversation that should take us down the path of establishing physical “social enterprise zones and corridors” around places like Eastern Market, Union Market, the theatre district, the universities, the new DC United Stadium, even near the agencies themselves. We should be talking about social enterprise incubation and acceleration “nests” that allow for new firms to blossom and grow, connecting them virtually and technologically in the smartest ways possible. And we should be educating and training the providers, as well as the users, in 21st techniques to engage in partnerships, networks and corporate structures that speed this development. Calculated risk and entrepreneurial thinking can change the business character of DC and the surrounding communities and bring social enterprise to the forefront.

We’re discussing DC as a social enterprise city on UnSectored leading up to our DC Entrepreneurship Week event on October 9th, co-hosted with RaiseDC. Learn more and sign up! Hope to see you there to continue the discussion.

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