The Digital Mission to Washington DC kicked off downtown yesterday in the impressive surroundings of Microsoft’s Innovation and Policy Centre.
Leading off were Chuck Morton and Susan Edlavitch, Partners at Venable LLP, in conversation with Louise Eldridge of Finers Stephens Innocent LLP,who gave a legal perspective on the legal environment for tech firms that look to the transatlantic.
The session covered some of the basic questions facing UK firms looking to set up in the US, but with one overriding message – let your business needs lead you to the right legal set up. That would mean partnering up with a US company in a joint venture – especially useful for accessing Government contracts – or forming your own corporate entity.
The corporate environment can look different to the UK, with taxation and regulation coming from federal, state and local level. But with the sheer level of cross border activity increasing, the environment for foreign small & medium enterprises is more favourable than ever.
The greater Washington DC area, covering not just the District, but also close-by suburbs of Maryland and Virginia, has one of the best educated, most diverse workforces in the country, as well as one of the highest levels of real income per capita.
It’s also been remarkably resilient at a time of recession, partly due to the large Government sector in the town, which procures around $75 billion of services in the greater DC area, but also due to the growing professional business services and health services.
There are an array of grants, tax breaks and other support for start up companies looking to the region, which can be found through the region’s partnership – the Greater Washington Initiative, as well as the Government’s SCORE initiative, which provides guidance and mentorship for start ups. Some other key resources include the Federal Business Opportunities website and US Government spending, for a better picture of where the money is spent.
Next up, three DC insiders gave us their view from inside the Beltway.
Rock Creek Strategic Marketing‘s Scott Johnson showed just how broad the opportunity for UK tech innovators is in the DC area. Aside from just the Government, there are around 8,000 associations, as well as a health presence of international organisations, like the World Bank, many with huge budgets, each with their own need for innovative communications technology.
Meanwhile, Steve Radick of Booz Allen Hamilton, showed just why getting into the networking game is so important. With literally hundreds of people who engage subcontracting and partnering with third parties on contracts, building that relationship with the right person can make the difference on whether your idea or services gets picked up in a joint venture.
According to David Almacy, Senior Vice President, Digital Public Affairs, Edelman, it is worth using the Government Services Administration’s (GSA) Schedule, to see which companies have been vetted to work as Government contractors, as a guide to who you should be looking to partner with your innovation.
Finally we got the view from the trenches – British trailblasers who have made the jump across the pond.
Bret Husbands of Firmstep talked about the cultural difference between working with the Government in the UK and US. The UK practice of setting out what the tools can do, made way for the US practice of explaining how the product will serve citizens.
Meanwhile, Richard Murby, an Open Government Consultant at the World Bank, talked about how, while the cultural gap is really not that great, there is a markedly pro-entrepreneur culture of the US.
With just enough time for a short stroll around downtown DC between events, the day was topped off with a welcome reception generously hosted by Deloitte just over the Potomac in Rosslyn. There our 10 companies had the chance to pitch, network and meet a range of the great and the good of Washington who were only too willing to share their advice on how to crack the DC scene.