The voice of the DC Inno Beat on the rise of Richmond

To better understand some of the hottest trends rising in the D.C. region, and some of the new advantages that paying attention to Richmond could afford to the greater Washington area, we spoke with Kieran McQuilkin, new market editor at American Inno.

ABERMAN: I’m amazed how you always seem to come up with something new at D.C. Inno. You never seem to run out of things to cover. How many stories a day do you run?

MCQUILKIN: I think you hit the nail on the head, there, we don’t really run out of things to cover. We we aim for about a story a day. That’s for the site, but but our newsletter goes Monday through Friday, and I have not for one day since I started had trouble filling that up. We’ve got a great network freelance writers as well. They have their finger on the pulse of the scene. and there’s always something to talk about. So, about one a day, but you know, in the news business, when it happens it happens, and you have to cover it, so that can ebb and flow.

ABERMAN: I think that the innovation community, the startup community, is in some ways very siloed off from government contractor community, media, different industries that drive our community. What, for those of us that don’t know as much about it, are the driving, defining characteristics of the D.C. innovation and startup community that makes it unique around the country?

MCQUILKIN: Part of what the D.C. startup community gives that you can’t find too many other places is diversity, and that’s not good in the tech industry overall. But in D.C., the numbers are better than the national average, in almost every department. That’s women, minority founders, service disabled veteran-owned businesses, the whole lot. So, a lot of diversity, and that’s great, and that’s really attractive to a lot of employees who don’t mix into the regular Silicon Valley standard.

ABERMAN: And Silicon Valley has come into a lot of criticism, and justifiably so, about being a very inward looking culture, very misogynistic, and certain high profile cases, and not a great place to build a career as a woman or LGBT person and so forth. Is that really the defining characteristic here, that it’s a more diverse and tolerant community, or are there other things as well?

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MCQUILKIN: I would say it’s better here, it’s not necessarily the definition of it. And actually, I think what really makes it strong does go back to the government contracting, the big contracts, the long term consulting. Because we’re starting to see that, out of those companies who are doing really well in that business, creating technology, say, for the government, or for defense contractors, starting to find ways to apply that technology elsewhere, branching out into private industry. And that’s something that is very unique to the area.

ABERMAN: You talk about the region, and the young people that are really energetic, they’re making a difference. When I first moved here in ‘98, the general view was that government was boring and dull, there was nothing going on government that I, as a young entrepreneur, including myself as a venture capital lawyer, I wanted nothing to do with the government. But it seems that things have changed, and young people are more interested in solving government problems, or taking a technology out of government. Was that the Obama administration, is it just that millennials are more civically oriented? Why is your generation different from mine, in how they look at working with the government?

MCQUILKIN: I think part of it, a big part of it, is that civic orientation, and saying you know, I can see the work that I do for the government playing out on the streets of D.C. If I’m making technology that the Metro uses to better track delays and whatnot, and I can see that happening in real time on an app, that maybe I created, or I know someone who worked with that, on my phone, that makes it a lot more engaging, and does kind of take that stigma out of government work.

I mean, a lot of this stuff, you see it as slow, as bureaucratic, but really on the ground, these are things we see every day. So, I think I’m not sure it’s an administration thing, but I think the government, especially local governments, have started doing a better job advertising that work, and these digital rebrands, and interconnections to the people who might be working for them.

ABERMAN: And I think it’s a great thing. And again, my experience over the years has been people come to D.C. because they want to make a difference. But, for quite a long time, it was very silent in how they went about doing it. I love that the lines are blurring. You know, in addition to D.C., I see that you cover Richmond, Virginia. And the Greater Washington Partnership in particular has been driving the concept that we should be looking at ourselves as a ‘super region’ from Baltimore down to Richmond. As you look at Richmond’s innovation activities, do you think there are opportunities for us in the D.C. region to work more closely with Richmond, and coordinate our activities to make better startups?

MCQUILKIN: Yeah, I think so, absolutely. I mean, starting off, it’s two hours away. It’s an easy drive right down 95. There are distribution channels, so no matter what you’re selling, really, if you’re going to have it in D.C., you might as well have it in Richmond. There are going to be connections just in terms of simple spillover. Costs of living is a lot higher in D.C. than it is in Richmond. I lived there for two years, actually, before moving to D.C. Cost of living’s a lot higher, and when you just need, say, a team of 10 engineers to hang out in an office and write some code, they don’t necessarily need to be right in your towering D.C. office to do so. Send them down south, and you’re seeing that start to happen, but it will more as the D.C. area gets more crowded with those kind of companies

ABERMAN: In a way, sort of like what’s happening with Silicon Valley, and people moving to Seattle or Portland, and continuing to pursue startups.

MCQUILKIN: And a lot of it actually, I think, this is more forward looking, maybe 10 years, 15 years from now: I can’t remember the company, but they just connected their fiber optic cables that are transatlantic going from Virginia Beach, instead of connecting them to D.C., they’re going to put them in Richmond, in some Henrico data centers. And what that means is that, south of Richmond, there are not large data connections that are transatlantic.

So, you’re sending that signal from Richmond, instead of D.C., to South America, to Central America, anywhere it needs to go. That’s going to be really important, looking forward, because it means you need a lot of data storage there, and the distance from D.C. to Richmond actually makes a huge difference when it comes to those cables, at the scale they will be built.

ABERMAN: The beat goes on. Kieran McQuilkin, thanks for joining us.

MCQUILKIN: Thanks for having me.

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