Press Club

Morning Notes

Ballston Quarter at twilight (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Poll: D.C. Residents Prefer Alexandria — A poll on Twitter with more than 1,000 respondents shows D.C. residents saying they’re prefer to live in Alexandria over Arlington, if they had to choose, by a ratio of nearly 2:1. [Twitter]

ACPD Lays Wreaths at Memorial — “Following the Observance of Peace Officers Memorial Day, ACPD’s Honor Guard laid wreaths at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in recognition of Arlington’s seven heroic officers who have died in the line of duty. The memorial features the names of more than 22,000 federal, tribal, state and local law enforcement officers who have made the ultimate sacrifice for the safety and protection of our nation. We are committed to never forgetting their sacrifices in service to their communities.” [Facebook]

Roads in Rosslyn Closing for Police 5K — “The 2022 National Police Week 5k will take place on Saturday, May 14, 2022.  The Arlington County Police Department will conduct the following road closures to accommodate the event.” [ACPD]

Reminder: Expect Police Motorcades — “Police Week is scheduled from Wednesday, May 11 through Tuesday, May 17. Most of the scheduled activities will take place Thursday through Sunday, though the arrival of families of fallen officers on Wednesday and Thursday will prompt many of the motorcades and rolling road closures.” [ARLnow]

Dems Honor Longtime Volunteer — “The recipient of the Arlington County Democratic Committee’s highest accolade for longtime service says she is pleased that the party continues to expand in both size and scope. ‘With more people doing more things, our organization is more complex than ever,’ Inta Malis said during a May 10 online event sponsored by Arlington Senior Democrats.” [Sun Gazette]

TV Station Honors Arlington Nurses — “As 7News celebrates the third day of Nurses Week, we salute the men and women of VHC Health in Northern Virginia. The community hospital in Arlington is a member of the Mayo Clinic Care Network and is a designated Magnet hospital, one of the highest group honors for a hospital.” [WJLA]

Startup Founder Helping Refugees — “As the clock struck 11 p.m. on March 19, Yulia Yaani gathered a group of Ukrainian refugees at the Polish border. She stepped onto the bus that night, alongside roughly 50 women and children, and they traveled to Denmark for the next 17 hours — to escape the war with Russia… Yaani is co-founder and CEO of Arlington fintech [company] RealAtom, a 5-year-old startup.” [Washington Business Journal]

Kiwanis Donate to Ukraine Efforts — “The Kiwanis Club of Arlington has donated $5,000 to the World Central Kitchen (WCK) to assist with relief efforts in Ukraine. Proceeds from the club’s fund-raising activities, including its annual blueberry sale, are being used to support the WCK with their meals programs on the ground in Ukraine and in surrounding countries.” [Sun Gazette]

It’s Thursday — Mostly cloudy and cool throughout the day, with a slight chance of rain. High of 68 and low of 58. Sunrise at 6:00 am and sunset at 8:12 pm. [Weather.gov]

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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.

HUNGRY still has an appetite for growth.

The Ballston-based food tech startup acquired its third company in as many years.

HUNGRY offers an online catering marketplace connecting companies with local chefs. Last week, it announced the acquisition of California-based healthy snacks company NatureBox, which delivers its products to homes and offices, and has its own private-label bulk snacks.

“NatureBox’s healthy snacks will be an outstanding complement to HUNGRY’s business-catering solutions, creating a game-changing combination of exceptional quality and service,” HUNGRY co-founder and CEO Jeff Grass said in a statement. “Companies right now are looking for one partner to handle all of their in-office food, snacking, and beverage needs, and now more than ever, HUNGRY is that complete partner for them.”

Hungry founders Eman Pahlavani, Shy Pahlevani and Jeff Grass (courtesy photo)

NatureBox, which has served over 3.5 million consumers and thousands of corporate clients, previously raised nearly $60 million in funding, a press release said.

“We’re proud to join forces with HUNGRY, and we’re excited that now even more people will be able to enjoy our amazing, healthy snacks all over the country,” NatureBox CEO John Occhipinti said in a statement. “We’re grateful to Jeff and the whole HUNGRY team for believing in what we’ve built and taking it to the next level.”

The acquisition furthers HUNGRY’s national reach and increases its healthy options.

The startup launched in late 2016,  and has since expanded to more than 10 markets across the U.S., and acquired companies LocalStove in Philadelphia and Ripe Catering in New York City.

Outside of the D.C. area, HUNGRY is available in Philadelphia, Atlanta, Boston, New York City, Austin, Dallas, Los Angeles, Nashville and San Francisco.

It has added food truck options and Virtual Xperiences, where groups can purchase online cooking classes with name-brand chefs and supplies sent directly to participants’ homes.

During the pandemic, it brought Nationals Park fan favorites to customers’ doors when the stadium was closed. It has since ended that partnership as fans are able to return to cheer the baseball team on in person.

HUNGRY has grown quickly over the last two years, earning a spot on the Deloitte Technology Fast 500 and debuting at No. 434 on the Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing companies in 2021. It also was named one of Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies and Best Workplaces for Innovators.

Last year, it raised $21 million in a star-studded funding round, bringing on board actress Issa Rae, “America’s Got Talent” host Terry Crews, NFL player DeAndre Hopkins, NBA player Lonzo Ball and boxer Deontay Wilder.

Previous HUNGRY investors include Jay-Z’s Marcy Venture Partners, Kevin Hart, Usher, Todd Gurley, Bobby Wagner, Ndamukong Suh, and celebrity chefs Tom Colicchio and Ming Tsai.

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Morning Notes

Squirrel defeating a bird feeder (Flickr pool photo by Kevin Wolf)

Planning for Fmr. Inner Ear Site — “Arlington Cultural Affairs is working with public art and placemaking firm Graham Projects to design a future arts space at 2700 S. Nelson Street/2701 S. Oakland Street in Green Valley, and we are looking for your inspiration and input. A flexible, outdoor open space is planned for the site, which will be designed following the planned demolition of the existing building this fall. In the meantime, we want YOUR thoughts and ideas!” [Arlington County]

Big Money for Growing Local Company — “Arlington’s Federated Wireless Inc. has raised an additional $14 million in a second closing of its latest round of funding — bringing the raise’s total to $72 million — as it looks to augment the private wireless market.” [Washington Business Journal]

Refugee Wins Reprieve in Court — “In a brief ruling from the bench that surprised both sides with its speed, Circuit Court Judge William T. Newman Jr. in December declared Khoy’s plea vacated. Khoy reached for her lawyer’s arm in disbelief. Was the nightmare really over?” [Washington Post]

Events to Mark Civic Association Anniversary — “The John M. Langston Citizens Association will celebrate the 85th Anniversary of the organization with a series of events during the weekend of May 13th through 15th. The Opening Program on Friday, May 13th at the Langston-Brown Community Center will feature recognition of the 28 plaintiffs from the Thompson v. Arlington School Board 1958 court case who were denied entrance to white schools, when the Stratford Four… were admitted on February 2, 1959.” [HallsHill.com]

SoberRide for Cinco de Mayo — “Offered by the nonprofit Washington Regional Alcohol Program (WRAP), the 2022 Cinco de Mayo SoberRide® program will be in operation beginning at 4:00 p.m. on Thursday, May 5th (Cinco de Mayo) and operate until 4:00 a.m. on Friday, May 6th as a way to keep local roads safe from impaired drivers during this traditionally high-risk period.” [WRAP]

Circulator Strike Planned — “Fed up with a lack of progress in contract talks and unfair labor practices, the bus drivers for the DC Circulator, employed by RATP Dev, will be on strike tomorrow morning, Tuesday, May 3rd and will stay out until an agreement is reached.” [ATU Local 689]

It’s Tuesday — Partly sunny during the day, then a chance of showers and thunderstorms, mainly after 8 p.m. High of 75 and low of 56. Sunrise at 6:09 am and sunset at 8:04 pm. [Weather.gov]

Flickr pool photo by Kevin Wolf

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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.

Caitlin Iseler had great benefits in her executive search job, but nothing that supported her as a working parent.

She loved working at consulting firm Korn Ferry and wanted to be exceptional in her career but also wanted to do the best she could as a mom.

“I was like these (benefits) are great but this isn’t really solving my challenge of wanting to be a great mom and really wanting to be present and having those health wins outside of work,” she said. “I became really passionate about this concept of how do you support people in their time outside of work so they can be great at work.”

Happyly Founder Caitlin Iseler and her family (courtesy of Caitlin Iseler)

So, in 2019, she and co-founders Liz Regard and Randi Banks started Happyly, a platform companies can offer employees that provides activity plans and ways to give back to the community. Twenty corporations, including Navy Federal, her former employer Korn Ferry and Appian, offer Happyly’s service to their employees.

“It shouldn’t take a lot of time or money to do great things with your family and to really live your best life outside of work,” Iseler said. “So our platform is designed to support those experiences for real connection and again it all ties back to, for employers to ‘take care of people and they’ll take care of your company.'”

Last week, the Arlington-based company launched a new website and this week will roll out a new version of its app.

“There’s a lot coming down the pike in terms of our product evolution and around this give back component,” Iseler said.

The Virginia Innovation Partnership Corporation is a Happyly investor, and the company recently received a grant from the Commonwealth Commercialization Fund. The startup also participated in the 757 Accelerate program and has several other investors from Virginia and the University of Virginia, Iseler’s alma mater.

“So for us, it’s just such a good place to be, and that has a lot to do with how we’ve been embraced by the state in terms of trying to bring this idea to life,” she said. “And I was in the D.C. area for 15 years after college… it’s home in so many ways.”

Over the next year, Happyly looks to add 30 to 50 more corporate clients and to double its roster of eight full-time employees and 120 ambassadors, which create content across the U.S. They’re hiring across many different categories, Iseler said.

“At the end of the day, building a business and being an entrepreneur is challenging and humbling because I get to live my purpose,” Iseler said. “I’m really proud of the team that we built and being able to bring together people who have such different experiences but are united by this purpose.”

Happyly co-founders Randi Banks, Caitlin Iseler and Liz Regard (courtesy of Caitlin Iseler)

But it is difficult to create a new category.

“You have to find the right companies at the right stage to introduce something so different,” she said, noting after launch only about a quarter of the companies really “got it.”

“But those are the ones we need to focus on, right, because we don’t need every single company in the world, we need the ones that really care and get it,” she said. “And we hope that in a couple years that this new category will be something that every company is thinking about.”

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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.

There are two “waves” one Arlington analytics company is riding: the health care industry’s inefficient use of data and the need for the U.S. to get a handle on health care costs.

Virginia Square-based CareJourney was founded in 2014 and uses data analytics to help organizations understand their customers and efficiently grow as the industry focuses more on keeping people healthy rather than just treating ailments.

CareJourney started as a service advisory business, so it was providing management consulting to the first few customers, CEO Dan Ross said.

“Pretty soon we figured out that we were sending some of the same things to each customer and so it was kind of a hint that we were on to something that could be repeatable software,” he said. “And so one of the first things we did, you know, in about three, two years in, was to start to pivot into a software business.”

The CareJourney team (courtesy of CareJourney)

CareJourney has about 120 customers, including health care organizations and providers. Ross said the company’s growth has been fast, adding about 10 to 15 customers every quarter since it began focusing on software in 2017.

And last year, CareJourney began partnering with other companies as well. It recently announced a new partnership with Credo Health, which automates digital medical record retrieval. The partnership allows clients to grow more efficiently and manage care for an increasing number of patients.

“When you put the two pieces of technology together, in our case, our data with their software, it just allows their end customers to do more than they would have been able to do just with the Credo software,” Ross said.

CareJourney has about five partners similarly incorporating the CareJourney data into their services.

Ross attributes the company’s success to its hyper-focus on solving customers’ problems, and its hiring, developing and coaching employees, as well as building a good culture. He said it has about 100 full-time employees, mostly in the D.C. area.

When CareJourney was started, its founders — Ross, Aneesh Chopra and Sanju Bansal — lived locally and had already started other businesses in the area, so Arlington was a natural choice to locate the new company.

“We expected to be hiring a lot of tech-oriented people… Arlington is like one of the hotbeds locally of places to start and have a tech business,” Ross said. “So it’s kind of an easy choice, nearby and sensible.”

Ross said to start a high growth business, a company needs to be in an important and large space and “riding some waves.”

“The adoption of analytics, technology in health care, and also this like screaming need for more efficiency are two big waves that we ride,” he said.

As the health care industry increasingly transitions to focus on incentivizing health systems to keep people healthy — called value-based care — versus treating them for illness and ailments, the need for data analytics is also growing.

“The whole point of value-based care is not to pay for when someone’s sick, whatever that is, but instead to flip the incentives around and incent the health care delivery system to take care of patients, whether or not they are sick,” Ross said.

One example is when using CareJourney’s data, one of its clients noticed a high number of hospital admissions over a month or two stemming from a similar condition.

“And so using our data, they were able to go back and look and say ‘oh, well, people who hadn’t seen a urologist — as this is in the senior population — had this, like, unusually high rate of hospital admissions from UTIs,'” Ross said.

So the client implemented a urologist screening, and the data showed that it prevented hospital admissions.

“When you keep somebody out of the hospital, that’s just a huge win in health care,” Ross said. “That’s probably the number one thing we can do, is just, in general, keep people out of the hospital.”

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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.

Relying on survey feedback after an event was not enough for the co-founders of Bear Analytics.

While surveys were the standard for evaluating trade show performance, Joe Colangelo and Eric Misic saw an opportunity in all the data event organizers were already gathering from their customers but weren’t using very well.

Arlington-based Bear Analytics collects registration information, exhibitor sales and more from across various platforms to increase attendance and encourage people to return the following year.

Colangelo and Misic started in the large trade show space, where they saw challenges to reporting how well events were being marketed. In 2013, they started asking around to see if others were struggling with the same thing and most answered yes.

“So we quit our jobs that summer and started Bear,” Colangelo said.

Now, their clients range from the National Association of Home Builders, Global Pet Expo and National Confectioners Association.

Virginia Venture Partners recently announced an investment in Bear Analytics so it could ramp up hiring for technical roles.

While Bear Analytics works with people all over the world, its core team is based out of the Crystal City office. Colangelo grew up in the Buffalo/Niagara Falls area but moved to Arlington to work in a trade organization in D.C.

“I love Arlington,” he said. “Arlington has a lot to offer.”

Colangelo said marketing traditionally had been very reactive, like in the ’60s and ’70s with door-to-door sales focused on selling goods and then surveying to discover what could improve.

“But now, as information moves faster than ever, we’re in a position where we can actually change the future outcomes,” he said.

The Bear Analytics team (courtesy of Bear Analytics)

The days leading up to a trade show is when the data can be the most impactful but is also when organizers are already in “show mode” and have the least amount of time to use that data, Colangelo said. Without Bear, organizers may not look at it until after the event is over.

“And then you’re only in a scenario that you can get it right the following year, if you even do something with it,” he said.

But using the information, Bear can make predictions ahead of the show — something the company has doubled down on since the pandemic.

Bear Analytics’ most productive quarter was right before the pandemic, the first quarter of 2020, and then many factors changed for live events, Colangelo said. People weren’t attending in person, and if they were, they wouldn’t commit to a show until a few weeks out, closer to the event than before the pandemic.

“Your window for reaching (customers) with the right message and the right offer to get them to attend is narrower than it’s ever been,” he said. “We use data to let you know who is more likely to convert at the right time.”

The pandemic was a turning point for Bear Analytics. Colangelo said they had to change everything to reimagine the way Bear worked, going from a boutique consultancy agency to technology first.

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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. 

It has been a newsy two months for Ballston-based restaurant commerce platform GoTab.

The company, located at 901 N. Stuart Street above the Ballston Metro station, is crossing international borders into the land of hockey and maple syrup, bringing its contactless ordering and payment platform to Canada.

Meanwhile, 2022 is looking to be a big year for sales, as it aims to process more than $1 billion in sales at restaurants, bars and sports and entertainment venues. To facilitate all those sales, it has added a new feature to eliminate one hassle of smartphone ordering — punching in payment details — and is working to establish itself in the hotel industry.

The northward expansion, announced last week, has already yielded fruit for the six-year-old startup. GoTab has a new partnership with a Canadian company called Baseline Payments, which sees the technology as a way to help restaurant operators and front-of-house staff.

“We are excited for GoTab to enter the Canadian market and see tremendous opportunity for its innovative technology,” said Marc Weber, business development vice-president for Baseline Payments, in a statement. “Our mission aligns perfectly with GoTab’s vision: to make life simpler for operators and allow them to provide a superior level of service.”

Canada is not the only new frontier for GoTab. The company is also working with Mastercard to get rid of the need to punch in credit and debit card details or remember passwords.

Mastercard customers can choose to have their information saved to the credit card company’s platform called Click to Pay. When checking out with retailers, restaurants and venues — online or in-person — that accepts Mastercard, they can use the Click to Pay icon to checkout without pulling out their card.

“We strive to help our operators enhance the guest experience,” GoTab CEO Tim McLaughlin said in a statement. “Mastercard Click to Pay is the perfect solution to simplify and make the checkout process easier, faster, and completely seamless.”

A GoTab user scans a QR code to order (courtesy of GoTab)

The new option first launched at the Stone Brewing taproom in Richmond late last month.

“We’ve had a very successful run with GoTab and Mastercard Click to Pay across all of our taprooms and bistros,” said Gregg Frazer, VP of Hospitality for Stone Brewing. “Our guests were already big fans of GoTab, but the convenience and security of Click to Pay made the payment experience even better.”

This year, GoTab is looking to expand beyond restaurants and bars entirely and get into — and strengthen its presence within — the hotel industry.

That comes as the hotel business, hit hard by the pandemic, is trying to embrace new technologies to streamline processes like check-in. But the industry is projected to see more growth this year, driven by an uptick in domestic leisure travel, less restricted international travel and a return to the office.

“There are so many opportunities to modernize systems within the hospitality industry and utilize GoTab’s technology for guest amenity programs, in-room dining, common indoor and outdoor spaces [and] rooftop bars,” said Deborah Tappan, GoTab’s new Director of Hospitality Management, in a statement. “The options are endless.”

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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. 

There is a new takeout- and delivery-only bakery in Arlington, and it is open until 2 a.m. on weekends — just when a cookie craving may strike.

The ghost kitchen, called MOLTN Cookies, celebrated its opening on Saturday with free cookies. It operates from within the Allspice Catering storefront (6017 Wilson Blvd) in the Dominion Hills neighborhood, near the county border with the City of Falls Church. Allspice and MOLTN have separate ownership and are otherwise unaffiliated, save the agreement to share a kitchen.

The company offers 10 cookie options — including s’mores, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup and white chocolate macadamia nut — as well as several ice cream flavors for shakes and sundaes, all of which is made to order. Cookies are available in packs of six, 12 and 24. The ghost kitchen also offers corporate and event catering packages.

“Anyone in the area with a sweet tooth knows how difficult it can be to find a quality selection of desserts late at night,” co-owner Neal Miglani said in a statement. “As we watched the ghost kitchen concept take hold in the DMV, we realized we could use the model to fill this need, providing a variety of options when people need them the most.”

MOLTN Cookies promotional graphic (courtesy photo)

Miglani grew up helping out in his family’s restaurant, mopping floors and working in the kitchen, and eventually began consulting for restaurants and food tech startups in D.C.

Compared to places like New York City, Los Angeles and the Bay Area, Miglani says the Washington region was “definitely a little late to the party” when it came to the food-tech scene.

“Delivery just wasn’t as much a priority for restaurant owners before the pandemic here, but the market is responding quickly,” he tells ARLnow. “I think we are going to start seeing a lot of restaurants experimenting with virtual brands and delivery-focused menus.”

He says the food-tech scene has changed in the last two years primarily because the pandemic whetted people’s appetites for the convenience of pickup and delivery. That has in turn birthed a number of startups that specialize in building online ordering platforms for restaurants.

“We’ve also seen new food tech companies come into popularity recently such as LunchBox, BBot, and many more that have made the process much smoother,” he observed. “After witnessing this transformative shift in dining first-hand, we knew that when we started our own cookie business, we would utilize a takeout- and delivery-based business model.”

Miglani tested out his cookie concept in Gaithersburg, Maryland last year. The success of the location ultimately led him and his cofounders to open the Arlington location, he said.

He tells ARLnow that the location near the Arlington-Falls Church border is “perfect” because MOLTN can serve both areas.

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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. 

(Updated at 9:15 a.m. on 03/29/22) International startup accelerator ZEBOX is gearing up to open its U.S. headquarters in Crystal City in April.

Construction has been underway at 1550 Crystal Drive since Gov. Ralph Northam heralded the arrival of France-based accelerator in February 2021.

The company is slated to inaugurate the space — with sweeping views of Crystal City, Reagan National Airport and the Potomac River — on April 26.

ZEBOX will be bringing together promising startups with concepts that could solve the world’s supply-chain issues and giving them the physical space and mentorship they need to succeed.

The accelerator will also be connecting these startups with large shipping and transportation companies, such as BNSF Railway and the Port of Virginia, that need these smaller companies’ ideas and products to keep their goods moving quickly and secure their data.

“These big companies pay a service fee for us to come in and teach them how to innovate,” says ZEBOX America Vice President Charley Dehoney. “Then, we find startups that can help their business grow and we play matchmaker.”

ZEBOX is choosing companies that have already demonstrated some success and are in various early fundraising stages, from a pre-seed round to Series B. Nine startups will be relocating to Crystal City next month as part of ZEBOX’s first cohort.

The accelerator’s leaders aim to have D.C.-area-based startups comprise up to 40% of the startups located in its offices. The Crystal City location will be ZEBOX’s flagship hub, Dehoney said, because “we have the most robust startup ecosystem in the world.”

The local startup scene’s strength has been mostly in government-related ventures and cybersecurity, but that reputation has evolved as Amazon cements its foothold in the region, he says.

Dehoney points to JBG Smith, which is bringing ubiquitous 5G connectivity to Crystal City, Pentagon City and Potomac Yard — collectively known as National Landing — to give startups the technological infrastructure they need to innovate.

“Amazon needed this infrastructure because they want robotics, drone delivery and autonomous vehicles,” Dehoney said. “It’s the perfect place for us to have a supply chain-mobility focused accelerator.”

ZEBOX America Vice President Charles Dehoney, left, and Chief Operating Officer Patrick Duffy, right (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

A year ago, the supply chain was not a topic of dinner-table conversation, nor was it a concept that Americans budgeted into how they planned their holiday shopping, for example. But all that changed with the pandemic, says Dehoney.

“These supply chain issues have always existed. They were exacerbated by Covid, then the world shined a light on it,” he said.

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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. 

Cryptocurrency — and the technology underpinning the latest developments within this world, like non-fungible tokens (NFTs) — are complex enough to make the average person’s head spin.

Enter OVRT, a new Arlington-based crypto-community that exists to offer locals and D.C.-area artists free education on cryptocurrency, like bitcoin, and how they can dive into this wholly digital financial world and make money in it.

OVRT is co-founded by Scott Parker, who is behind a bevy of businesses throughout Arlington like Don Tito’s restaurant and Bearded Goat Barber, and Northern Virginia local Ryan McNey, who Parker considers a “borderline certified expert” in cryptocurrency.

“We both have a lot of energy, we both love to work on stuff, and we’re both were excited about this space,” Parker tells ARLnow. “It makes sense for me to be able to connect him to local business people, entrepreneurs, artists — anyone I can help with OVRT. I’ve been successful with helping a lot of people come join the OVRT movement, and I’m excited to be a part of it.”

Their aim is threefold: first, educate locals about cryptocurrency; second, help artists earn a more sustainable living from their art using NFTs; and finally, open up conversations about this wholly digital financial world with lawmakers and regulators.

OVRT logo (courtesy photo)

So what are all these concepts?

Cryptocurrency is a form of encrypted digital currency. It is stored on the blockchain, which is basically a “digital ledger.” People use blockchain technology to make non-fungible tokens, or unique versions of things like digital artwork or sports memorabilia that can be digitized.

And how does all this benefit artists?

NFTs are fundamentally a way of verifying someone owns something digitally. There is a contract attached to that image, McNey notes, and every time an NFT gets bought or traded, the person who issued it can take a cut. That contrasts with physical art that is sold by the artist once, only to appreciate in value without returning any of that value to the original creator.

For artists, NFTs can mean significant income in royalties without cuts to managers and middle men. They can use NFTs to make money on their artwork, which might otherwise circulate the internet via screenshots and illegal downloads, without them seeing a penny, he says.

The co-founders of OVRT say successful artists will make great reference points when they discuss the benefits of cryptocurrency with lawmakers and regulators, who will eventually be drafting policies and regulations governing these transactions.

“As someone who’s been in crypto for eight years, I know that for us to succeed, it’s vital that policymakers and regulators are making informed and educated decisions versus reactive ones,” McNey said.

But the conversation cannot begin with heady jargon like “yields, staking and decentralized banking,” he says. It has to begin somewhere tangible.

“I’m going to talk to them about art,” he said. “We have to meet them where they are.”

OVRT is fully remote right now, but eventually, Parker and McNey would like to open up a space — likely in Arlington, given Parker’s local connections — where they can showcase artists and host events. Next Wednesday (March 30), they are launching OVRT’s first NFT called “HYPEES,” made by Matt Corrado, a prolific D.C. artist who has worked with Nike, Heineken and Converse.

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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.

Exobyte co-founders Dominic Giacona, left, and Taylor Bagwell, right (via Exobyte)

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.

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