New administration causing tech entrepreneurs to leave DC: consultant

A Washington business consultant said he is worried that some tech entrepreneurs attracted to the region by the Obama administration have started to leave since President Donald Trump has taken office.

In the past few months, there has been “a net departure of technologists moving away from the D.C. area, rather than people moving into the D.C. area,” said Ben Foster, D.C. transplant and product advisor for several local tech startups.

Executive orders signed in the first weeks of Trump’s presidency such as the travel ban have upset many tech entrepreneurs in the region, Foster told What’s Working in Washington. The political climate has also posed a threat to companies’ ability to recruit global talent, Foster said.

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“Technology companies need to get talent anywhere they can find it. And whether that’s people with H1B visas, or that’s people who they need to sponsor to move into the area, I mean these are people who can have really significant effect in companies,” Foster said.

However, this political shift isn’t hurting all tech startups. “The good news is, I think there are plenty of really good reasons that it does make sense to start a technology business here,” said Foster.

For example, government-centered cybersecurity companies and other companies where the federal government is their primary or even only customer, “I think this could actually be a really significant economic boon to them,” he said.

Talent recycling from old startups to new ones is something most people would associate with Silicon Valley, but it’s prevalent in the greater Washington region as well.

“In Silicon Valley, if you’re going to start a company, it’s not unreasonable to expect someone to have been at six or seven startups previously, and be able to bring that experience and that expertise to bear at the new company they’re about to join,” said Foster.

When Foster moved to the D.C. area for a startup early in the Obama administration, he said he did so because he felt like “it matters to the country. I feel like the kinds of thing that I would be working on to try to drive energy efficiency is something that truly matters.”

“And I think that if Obama could give me a call, and pick up the phone, he would thank me for the work I was going to be doing,” Foster said to his California friends when he moved. Though his friends didn’t believe him, “two months after I had joined, Obama was there in the office, shaking our hands, thanking us for the work we were doing,” he said.