Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow, Startup Monday is a weekly column that highlights Arlington-based startups, founders, and local tech news. Monday Properties is proudly featuring 1515 Wilson Blvd in Rosslyn.
Last week, 15 entrepreneurs spent two days training in a business “bootcamp” hosted by the BizLaunch team of Arlington Economic Development.
They came from Arlington and around the D.C. area to learn how to use software to simplify business operations, file their taxes and learn how to market their product or service, among a host of other skills entrepreneurs have to figure out for themselves.
Realtor and Arlington resident Miranda Carter came to hone her business’ value proposition. She is preparing to launch a business building net-zero emissions, sustainably finished accessory dwelling units that may have a small footprint but don’t sacrifice luxury.
“For me, it’s been good at clarifying and filling in the blanks for things I haven’t thought through,” said Carter. “I knew I needed discipline, and this would force it on me to come back with a viable plan in two days. I know I’m one of those people who’ll have a good idea but won’t do anything about it. It forces me to take action instead of having a plan for five years. I’m hopeful this takes off.”
Carter, who has showed homes to potential buyers and undertaken environmentally sustainable home renovations for years, said the program helped her identify her target customer, refine her elevator pitch and learn how to track metrics.
Another attendee, Yvonne Tazem, spent two decades selling cosmetics before deciding to launch a Vitamin C serum that would work on her sensitive skin. It has since been featured in Vogue and she’s now working on a full line of products. She signed up to learn more about online marketing and also came away with some software she could use to simplify how she tracks online sales.
“I love the ability to give women the option to wear makeup or not,” she said. “Makeup should be a choice. You should be able to have beautiful, healthy, glowing skin without it.”
Carter and Tazem are examples of subject-matter experts who need help with running a business, said Alex Held, AED’s Small Business Manager and the event’s organizer.
“They come to us because they don’t know what they don’t know,” he said. “We help them avoid expensive missteps and start on the right foundation.”
Registration for the free event “sold out” in minutes due to the number of people who recently quit their jobs to start their own businesses, and are part of an ongoing economic trend dubbed the “Great Resignation,” said AED spokeswoman Cara O’Donnell. It was the first time AED has offered something like this in 15 years.
The two-day conference was funded with American Rescue Plan Act funding, but the plan is to make it a permanent offering from AED twice every calendar year. The economic development division partners with Boston-based Revby, which works with municipal and state governments across the country to help small businesses with marketing, online presence and finances. Read More
Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups, founders, and other local technology news. Monday Properties is proudly featuring 1515 Wilson Blvd in Rosslyn.
Two millenials coding websites from a co-working space in Ballston have spent the last two years building their digital agency Exobyte from the ground up.
And along the way, Taylor Bagwell and Dominic Giacona — who are both brimming with ideas, inventions and solutions — say they’ve learned a lot about the balance required to grow a company while indulging their creative side.
“We have certainly had our fair share of growing pains,” says co-founder Bagwell.
Website development was a bit of a side-gig for both co-founders. Bagwell was bored at his government contracting job and began designing people’s websites for free until his name got around and he decided to monetize his skills. Giacona was in the U.S. Navy for five years and after leaving, got into user interface/user experience design (which is known by the abbreviation UI/UX) because he needed more work.
As he dove deeper, he became increasingly fascinated by the idea of telling hypervisual stories through website design.
“It all starts with user experience,” he said. “Making something visually appealing is one thing, but the goal is making it easy to use so that they don’t have to think at all.”
Some examples of their work include websites for a candy brand, fitness devices and a health coach-turned-podcaster.
Growing Exobyte, which offers web design, app development, e-commerce and marketing services, has taught both entrepreneurs business lessons. Bagwell says he now cannot understate the importance of vetting potential hires with real-time skills tests. As for finances, he realized a good accountant is key to an unsurprising tax season.
Most of all, building Exobyte taught them not get distracted by “shiny things.”
“We’ve made mistakes with getting excited about things we wanted to work on and pulling our attention away from things that mattered,” Bagwell said.
At one point, they tried to design an app that helps people find temporary contract labor — a market they learned is already saturated with options.
They’re taking a more measured approach with a new idea, which Giacona says came from a family member. It is aimed at making people feel safer on the road, and particularly during traffic stops.
“I always had ideas and solutions for problems,” Giacona said. (Bagwell and Giacona met because Giacona had the idea for a biodegradable liner for a protein shake, and he needed a website for the product concept.)
The fitness industry, from workout apparel to nutrition, also became one where Exobyte made a name for itself. But now, Bagwell and Giacona say they’re hoping to take on more clients outside that niche.
“You get burnt out working with the same industry: at the end of the day, they all want the same thing and they’re competing with each other. It makes it harder to work with clients and differentiate them,” Bagwell said.
The key to staying happy as a digital creator, he says, is to be flexible and not to get too deep into one niche.
In the coming year, the two are looking to take on new clients and hire a developer so they can focus on building up Exobyte — and devote some more time to their side projects.
A new coworking space has come to the Courthouse area, amid the pandemic-era boom in working from home.
Venture X Arlington-Courthouse Metro opened this month and is hosting an open house from 5-8 p.m. Wednesday at its 25,000 square-foot space at 2300 Wilson Blvd, also known as the Navy League Building
“This flexible office space is designed to meet the needs of government contractors, associations, lawyers, financial services and many other small to medium enterprises,” the company said in a news release.
Coworking offers individuals or businesses the ability to rent office space on a monthly basis, without a long-term lease. Such offices typically have communal spaces and work environments, often with private, enclosed office space as well.
“The flexible office space model is the beginning of a new era in the commercial real estate world,” Julie Felgar, owner of the coworking space, said in a news release.
The space features dedicated and shared desks, conference room spaces, a conference facility, Zoom and podcast rooms and a staffed café. It’s one of numerous options available to people in Arlington and around the region.
It comes as many workers have adjusted to telecommuting following pandemic lockdowns in 2020. According to one survey, businesses reported the percent of full-time employees working from home at least one day per week will increase from less than 10% to 27% by the end of the pandemic.
That actually might be good news for coworking spaces, which can provide smaller but well-outfitted office locations closer to where employees live.
“With the pandemic still ongoing, Venture X offers businesses and entrepreneurs an opportunity to make the hybrid office life a permanent reality,” Felgar said.
Photos courtesy Jeffrey Sauers
Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups, founders, and other local technology news. Monday Properties is proudly featuring 1812 North Moore.
Recent Yorktown High School graduate Eva Gary is bringing the magic of princesses, princes and superheroes to kids — from a safe distance and over Zoom.
At the height of the pandemic, Gary, a lifelong performer and musical theater lover, decided to defer college for a year. She wanted to re-apply to competitive musical theater programs that she could not get into and wait until more schools and classes are in-person.
With the extra time she had, she started Princess Wish Parties, granting the wishes of kids who want to see their favorite fairy tale characters.
Over the last year, Gary and her squad of characters have visited virtual art parties, events for school pods, and drive-up parties. The dance, do crafts, play games and perform sing-a-longs with kids.
“I love working with kids, and performing, and this is the most magical combination of those two things, literally,” she said.
Gary started “princessing” for other companies as a sophomore, saying it was the perfect job for a teen who needed improvisation practice and had experience working with kids. She took a break from it to apply for college, but when she ultimately decided to put college off for one year, she picked it back up.
Although she was skeptical of the first socially distanced party she attended, Gary said the experience did not change much: She still could believably embody a princess character, sing, dance and form connections with the kids.
Bolstered by the positive experience and encouraged by her mom, Gary took steps toward launching a princess company. She found second-hand “Snow Queen,” “Mermaid Princess” and “Rapunzel” costumes and wigs — these companies are not affiliated with Disney, for the record — and tested them on neighborhood kids who she said are in “the princess stage.”
“The girls believed it and were so excited about it,” she said. “That was when I realized I can do this. Having had a little bit of experience as a performer, I knew I needed to get my head around the business side, but performing would be the same.”
Since then, she has virtually auditioned and hired actors, many of whom she knew from other “princessing” gigs and the musical theater community. She has quickly added on more princesses and expanded her offerings to include princes and superheroes.
“Every second of free time is spent on this company and recently, applying for schools,” she said.
Working as a princess this year has helped her hone her craft as a princess and a performer.
“I think I’ve grown immensely as a princess performer from my sophomore year until now,” she said, adding that she also has to “be prepared to remind their kid to not put dirt in their mouth — in a friendly, princessy way.”
Now that the company has taken off, she said she plans to manage the company and hire actors from a distance during college, and delegate the logistics of handling parties to one of her younger sisters.
“It’s been harder than I expected, but I could spend every waking moment working on this and I would be happy,” she said
Photo courtesy Princess Wish Parties
Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow.com, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups and their founders, plus other local technology happenings. Monday Properties is proudly featuring a rare leasing opportunity at 1101 Wilson Blvd: 5 contiguous floors with exceptional views, building signage opportunity and brand new amenities. Enjoy all the perks of easy access and ample parking; a variety of food trucks at your front door; and enviable walkable amenities. Join YEXT and other leading tech companies at this vibrant location.
There are a lot of ways not to launch a startup. Unstuck Labs, a small company in Rosslyn, aims to help entrepreneurs avoid the early pitfalls of a new company with a course aimed to walk small companies through the process.
“We’re sort of Yoda for startups,” CEO Wa’il Ashshowwaf said. “Most days, the team here is helping people with modules and helping guide people.”
The company guides startups in a 12-week program. Ten startups have gone through the program and Ashshowwaf said 100% have raised some kind of seed funding and 60% have generated revenue.
The company is based out of Spaces (1101 Wilson Blvd) in what was once the Artisphere. Ashshowwaf said the Rosslyn location means they have good access to bigger companies like defense contractors, small entrepreneurs, and a variety of academic resources.
The course works in 18 building blocks that take entrepreneurs through the methodology of building a company. For the more technically-inclined, the focus might be on marketing, for those with a marketing background the focus might be on how to build a business model.
Ashshowwaf said the entrepreneurs that come to them are generally people who are just getting started or people who have launched a company but have struggled with growth. The startups are typically smaller in scale — Ashshowwaf said there’s a lot of “Uber for something” type companies and startups that bring chefs to people’s houses — while others are people like engineers and doctors who have big solutions for a problem but don’t know how to take that to market.
The number one mistake most new startups make, Ashshowwaf said, is starting with a solution in search of a problem.
“They build an app for tech that they like, but they don’t talk to customers,” Ashshowwaf said. “It’s Thor’s hammer. It’s a product just for you and no one else can use it.”
Unstuck Labs walks entrepreneurs through the technical side of starting up an app or a website, but Ashshowwaf said they also guide them through the business side, like reaching out to potential customers to get feedback and looking at how to scale a project.
Ashshowwaf said Unstuck Labs is different because instead of just giving out tools and reviewing work, the company is very hands-on with helping guide each person through the process.
The course is $9,470 with Unstuck Labs having the rights to invest early, after graduation.
Unstuck Labs is taking applicants for their startup studio. Ashshowwaf said the ideal applicant is someone who is about to lift up the phone and call an app developer.
“They should call us instead,” Ashshowwaf said. “Somebody called us today after they went straight to building a $40,000 website. They should have called us.”
Construction Underway on Hospital Expansion — “Shovels are in the ground and buildings are coming down as Virginia Hospital Center embarks on the nitty-gritty of a three-year, quarter-billion-dollar expansion effort.” [InsideNova]
Marymount Launches Intrapreneurship Initiative — “Marymount University’s School of Business and Technology (SBT) has launched an initiative to address one of the most significant talent gaps in the greater Washington region – a shortage of graduates who are prepared to use entrepreneurial skills to help employers grow and meet the challenges of an ever-changing world.” [Press Release]
Courthouse Office Building Sold — “Another Arlington office building has traded hands with the buyer citing Amazon HQ2 as a reason for optimism. American Real Estate Partners, in partnership with Rockwood Capital, announced Tuesday it acquired the Arlington Plaza office building at 2000 15th St. North.” [Bisnow]
Metro Seeking Feedback on Bus Changes — “Metro is proposing service changes to selected bus routes based on input from customers and local governments, to increase on-time performance and ridership, and respond to planning studies and market changes.” Changes are proposed for the 3Y, 7F and 7Y routes. [WMATA]
Why Hoskins Left for Fairfax — “Victor Hoskins may be done working on Amazon HQ2 in Arlington County, but he’s certainly not done talking about it. The former head of Arlington Economic Development, in an interview with Bisnow, cited post-Amazon fatigue as one of the reasons he decided to leave and take a new job as CEO of the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority. ” [Bisnow]
District Taco began as a stand-alone food cart and expanded into the burgeoning regional restaurant chain it is today.
This year marks the 10th anniversary of District Taco, which was co-founded by Marc Wallace and Osiris Hoil. The company is marking the occasion with an event in Rosslyn tomorrow (Thursday).
“ATTN, amigos!” the company said in a social media post. “Join us back where it all started for our 10 year anniversary… from 12-1 p.m. we will be on the corner of Lynn St & Wilson Blvd, in Rosslyn, handing out tacos and giveaways! Come celebrate with us and pose for a photo with our original taco cart.”
Hoil said he also plans on celebrating by taking a trip down to Mexico in August to visit family and reminisce about his mother’s cooking — the inspiration for many District Taco recipes.
Hoil’s entrepreneurial story began when he came to the United States as an immigrant and was laid off from a construction company during in 2007, around the time of the economic crisis. He said despite his dismay at the time, he still thinks highly of the firm and hired them to build several District Taco locations.
The District Taco cart launched in 2009, but was retired in 2014. Since then, two bricks-and-mortar District Taco locations have opened in Arlington: at 5723 Lee Highway — its very first storefront — in 2010 and in Rosslyn (1500 Wilson Blvd) in 2016.
District Taco now has 14 locations, according to its website, and plans to add at least three more in 2020, according to Hoil. They also want to double their office space by 2021.
“Everything we have done is by scratch,” said Hoil. “We have learned so much from other people and big companies.”
Photo 1 via Twitter
This article was written by Erik Skantze, winner of Arlington Economic Development‘s Startup Arlington Competition and Chief Production Officer for Richmond-based education startup, EdConnective.
It’s hard to believe that I arrived in Arlington only two short months ago.
Somewhere between working at SPACES in Rosslyn, getting a fabulous introduction to the area through Chasing Dragons, and enjoying the daily breakfast buffet over at the Residence Inn Marriott, I came to the realization that Arlington has some excellent offerings for entrepreneurs. These are my top three.
Startups are a lot like rollercoasters. Sometimes you experience the thrill of rapid twists and turns in a growing business. Sometimes you experience a knot in the pit of your stomach as you are staring over the edge of what looks like a bottomless abyss.
Other times you are just inching along a steep hill, grinding it out to get the next client, investor or product iteration that will propel you to the next stage of the startup lifecycle.
In the latter scenario, I like to take Steve Blank’s advice and “get out of the building” not only to connect with the community around me, but also to give myself the space and time to reflect. Arlington is full of hidden gems that are ideal for this activity — my favorites (so far) are:
- Freedom Park makes for a quiet walk in the heart of Rosslyn (outside of lunch hours, at least!) with great views of D.C. and plenty of opportunity to admire the local architecture.
- Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Island is Arlington adjacent and accessible by a quick bike ride or walk — after a short walk you will be so surrounded by nature that you may even forget you are in one of the most populous metro areas in the U.S.
- Although the George Washington Memorial Parkway might not always be associated with relaxation during rush hour, a quick stop along the overlook (or a walk through Potomac Overlook Park) makes for a great drive/walk combo.
East Coast Early Adopters
Does anyone really need same hour grocery delivery? Probably not, but it does have its novelty and it might even save you some time during a hectic day. Sure, almost every city has an unending supply of new services and early adopters, but what I love about Arlington is that it is jam packed with early adopters.
Whether it’s the ubiquitous electric scooter, Balkan cuisine, board game bars or home cooked ketogenic meals delivered to your door, the excitement, buzz and conversation about new concepts and services is what sets Arlington apart.
That’s not to say that every idea is a winner or even that most of these concepts will endure the test of time, but Arlington presents an attractive proposition for an entrepreneur who thrives on feedback and needs to test his or her creation in a tangible way.
Convenient Transportation to Basically Anywhere
Yeah, this one is decidedly less exciting than the other two, but I have come to find options in transportation to be a huge advantage. Hungry? Nothing beats an afternoon walk along Custis trail to Mom’s/Naked Lunch or (on those rough days) a quick scoot to Ben’s Chili Bowl for a fully loaded half smoke.
Tech MeetUp? The metro gets me where I want to go. West coast conference? Both Reagan National and Dulles are a short ride away. Bonus: the trip to our Richmond office is just a couple hours by car or train, which means I can catch a morning meeting and be back in time for lunch!
In closing, I’ll mention this: every conversation I have with an Arlingtonian (yep, I looked that up) ends the same way. I always ask, “what is the number one ‘must see‘ or ‘must do‘ on your list of Arlington-based activities and why?”
I haven’t gotten a bad answer yet, so I figure that’s as good a way as any to end this article. What’s your recommendation? Hit me up at @edconnective or [email protected]!
Erik Skantze is the Chief Product Officer for EdConnective and has mixed feelings about electric scooters (loves riding, hates dodging). As the winner of the Startup Arlington Competition, EdConnective is excited to work with local educators, investors, and mentors to help empower principals and teachers to impact student outcomes.
Photos via Rosslyn BID
This week Arlington is hosting conference dedicated to helping women entrepreneurs in the Greater Washington area.
The We Thrive Women Entrepreneurs’ Conference will be held on Thursday at Founders Hall at George Mason University’s Arlington campus (3351 Fairfax Drive) from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and aims to provide business growth and social media training and opportunities to network for female entrepreneurs.
Keynote speakers include Melinda F. Emerson of the Pennsylvania-based marking consulting firm Quintessence Group who will share lessons from her 20 years growing and advising small businesses. Other keynote speakers include attorney Nicole Cober and Jen Pilcher of MilSpouseFest.
The all-day event includes break out sessions on topics like raising your capital, federal contracts, marketing tips, and pitching.
Arlington Strategy CEO Jennifer Mulchandani will moderate a workshop on marketing tips. The workshop will also include panelists Romona Foster, a social media consultant, Evelyn Powers who co-founded website design company Design Powers, Inc., and Maritza Lizama of brand developer LiMon, LLC
Tickets sell for $150 and those interested in attending can register here.
Also happening Thursday in Arlington is East Coast VentureCON 2019, which is billed as a conference for “VCs, angels, and entrepreneurs on the East Coast” looking to network, attend events, and check out the an “innovation showcase” with speed pitches from startup companies.
The conference is being held at Marymount University in Ballston (1000 N. Glebe Road) and ticket prices range from $159 to $3,000.
Photo via Flickr user Marco Verch