DC earned its entrepreneurial stripes, says SBA head

A lifelong entrepreneur who has held leadership roles at HBO and AOL, and now the Small Business Administration, Mark Walsh says he has seen Washington, D.C. take major strides toward becoming an entrepreneurial destination.

Walsh, SBA’s outgoing head of investment and innovation, said living in Washington used to be a detriment if you worked in the technology industry. Walsh said he remembers having to quickly mention he worked for AOL when he told technology industry leaders he lived in Washington, or risk being put in the “weird bucket.”

Now, Walsh says he is proud to tell people he lives in Washington working on modernizing government technology because of the entrepreneurial strides the city has taken.

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He compared Washington to where Austin, Texas, was 15 years ago — citing the progress that city has made following the investments made by Dell.

In Walsh’s current role, he oversees the SBA’s efforts to help startups get off the ground. His office supplies equity capital, long-term loans and management assistance to qualifying small business. He also oversees the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs.

The role has given him a national view of entrepreneurial centers of gravity across the country and how the different cities compare. He says Washington has a long way to go to catch up to Silicon Valley, but each city features their own benefits.

Walsh says the federal government has done a better job in recent years becoming a better customer for small businesses. The government is a $4 trillion company looking to invest in small businesses, he said. The challenge is navigating the road blocks and bureaucracy to become an approved vendor and supplier.

The greater Washington region’s entrepreneurial ecosystem has benefited from these steps. The region has also invested in infrastructure that helps businesses. However, Walsh said he was disappointed to see the reduction in venture capital firms based in the area.

Washington still needs to take steps to support its entrepreneurs, but Walsh says the region is on the right path.

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