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D.C.'s start-up scene gets speed-dating, celebrity boost at SwitchPitch

Mayor Gray speaking at Switchpitch

Pitching at Switchpitch

Bobby Christian saw heads nodding up and down as he described to a roomful of entrepreneurs an opportunity for collaboration with his sizable Fairfax-based company, 3PillarGlobal — so he called them out.

"I see your head bobbing like a bobble head. If we need to talk, let us know," said Christian, 3Pillar's chief growth officer, pointing to someone in the crowd of entrepreneurs who thought he could create the product Christian was seeking.

It's just what organizers of this first-of-its-kind matchmaker event hoped to see.

Turning the typical business pitch on its head, SwitchPitch brought nearly a dozen media, advertising, tech and educational companies onto the stage to pitch their needs to the 250 startup-minded individuals in attendance.

Dusty, under-construction floors at the new 1776 center — which launched a few weeks ago to connect startups to opportunities and each other — provided an ideal backdrop to the cerebral networking event.

D.C. and business leaders seemed to agree that SwitchPitch was just what the local market needed. Mayor Vincent Gray, just back from the South By Southwest Interactive conference in Austin, Tex., opened up the event harping again on his vision for the District to grow as a hub for technology and new business.

"We are hell-bent on being able to create new opportunities in the city," he said. "We'll never be completely untethered from the federal government… But we should be able to create an economy that will have us less dependent on the federal government."

With about 1,100 new people moving into the District each month, Gray wants to foster the creation of 100,000 new jobs in the next four years — some 20,000 of them in the technology sector.

And perhaps the biggest business celebrity at the event, AOL co-founder and start-up investor Steve Case (who had some competition when John Sculley, former Apple Computer and PepsiCo CEO, showed up) gave his hearty approval to the idea of D.C. becoming a start-up hub. Case said the District is uniquely positioned to lead a new wave of innovation, particularly in the healthcare and education sectors that "are ripe for interruption."

"I think there will be a striking shift over the next 25 years, and that D.C. is the place to be, not just for start-up hubs, but for the revolution that is going to happen to these industries," Case said during a question-and-answer session with Michael Goldstein, founder of start-up accelerator Exhilarator (formerly Endeavor DC) that helped organize the event.

If it's any indicator of success, the last few pitches were presented over the din of conversation from an adjacent room, as those who already had pitched their needs fielded responses from attendees interested in meeting them.

Read more articles by Whitney Pipkin.

Whitney Pipkin is a freelance journalist who covers food, agriculture, and the environment and lives in Alexandria, Va. She writes about food, etc. at thinkabouteat.com.
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