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#1776dc: Grand opening shows off space and draws crowds, politicos

Donna Harris, Steve Case and Evan Burfield

Evan Burfield, Donna Harris, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray and U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA)

Donna Harris of 1776 DC speaks to Mayor Vincent Gray

1776, the tech campus in the heart of D.C., held its grand opening Friday in grand style. Evan Burfield and Donna Harris, cofounders of the space, hosted a VIP reception for 350 invitees, which included a short "sparkside chat" panel, before opening the party up to an additional 650 people.

After enjoying an open bar and food from Union Kitchen artisans, including Meg Murray from Thunder Pig Confectionary and Sharon Boesen from Capitol Hill Cake Mom, among others, Burfield welcomed guests to the space.

"D.C. has been a place where inspired young people have come to change the world," Burfield said. "1776 is a place where revolutions begin…to attack problems and launch bold new companies. A million dollars used to be cool; a billion is cool, but it's even cooler to do something profound."

The campus, at 17th and L NW, has been operating unofficially for months, hosting events like SwitchPitch DC and Startup Weekend DC. Additionally, 1776 has already signed on 75 startups to use its coworking space. But Friday was the first night the DC tech community as a whole got a glimpse of the mostly finished campus.

David Panarelli, user experience manager at LivingSocial, volunteers as a mentor at 1776. "The space is fantastic," he said. "The open work environment really allows for cross pollination."

During the welcome reception, Harris explained that part of 1776's role is to bring the region's resources together. "The [startup ecosystem] spreads from Dulles to Baltimore. 1776 is about fixing that" by providing a centralized gathering place, she said. Harris cited "K Street, subject matter experts, and corporate executives who fly in and out of D.C." as additional "rich sources of assets" that should be brought together for the benefit of the startup community.

Steve Case, who cosponsored the event with his wife Jean, declared a "second Internet revolution, focused on improving education, health, government and technology." These categories, he stated, comprise more than half of the U.S. economy. "1776 is an epicenter to inspire and bring entrepreneurs and innovators together."

Mayor Vincent Gray and Deputy Mayor Victor Hoskins both attended the party. "1776, where revolutions continue!" quipped Gray, before thanking Representatives Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Joaquín Castro (D-TX) for showing support for 1776.

Issa, Castro and Case were joined by Greg Ferenstein of TechCrunch for a short panel discussion which touched on immigration reform for high-skilled workers, Internet sales tax, and the age-old question: "When did tech become cool again?"

Case pointed out that 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies were started by immigrants. "It's critical to get them to come here," he said. "We have to win the global battle for talent."

Issa said that STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) immigration reform is needed. "We have an education system that does not reward the best and the brightest," he explained. "Every person with a STEM PhD comes in with five to ten jobs attached to them."

Castro allowed that "there are many different pieces to [reform]. We need reform that allows for more high-tech workers," he said, "while not betraying our values."

As for an Internet sales tax, Case said that he would prefer that online buyers didn't pay sales tax, "but it's a reasonable thing to do. I'm not surprised."

"Internet shopping is no longer a boutique activity," explained Castro. "It's time for review. The issue is just starting to gain momentum in Congress."

At times, the panel struggled to be heard over the crowd. After repeated requests for quiet, Ferenstein posed the following question to Case, one of the most seasoned tech entrepreneurs in the room. "Steve, you were in tech before tech was cool…. When did that happen? Why?"

Case, who has been a supporter of 1776 since its inception, explained, "It's not just tech. Entrepreneurship drives our economy. There are entrepreneurs in other sectors and regions that are drivers of growth. But almost every company is becoming a tech company. All are aggressive users of technology."

Read more articles by Allyson Jacob.

Allyson Jacob is a writer originally hailing from Cincinnati, Ohio, and is the Innovation and Job News editor for Elevation DC. Her work has been featured in The Cincinnati Enquirer and Cincinnati CityBeat. Have a tip about a small business or start-up making waves inside the Beltway? Tell her here.
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