For over a decade the George Washington University Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship (OIE) has delivered instructional and mentoring programs around innovation and venture creation for the school’s faculty and students.
This includes GW’s inclusion as part of a founding participant in the elite National Science Foundation (NSF) I-Corps program for technology commercialization among others. Now, thanks to a grant from the Wells Fargo Foundation, and the Washington DC Economic Partnership, via generous support from Pepco, OIE, in partnership with the HU2 I-Corps program at Howard University, soon will offer a new program serving the broader Washington, DC, startup ecosystem with its proven programs.
Supported by the $75,000 grant from the Wells Fargo Foundation, and additional grant funding from the Washington DC Economic Partnership, via $30,000 from Pepco, OIE’s Entrepreneur Development Network of D.C. (EDNDC) pilot program is set to launch in the spring 2021 semester. It will provide District-based entrepreneurs, universities, accelerators and economic development organizations access to instructional programs at no cost to supplement their existing resources to support the local economy.
“The Wells Fargo Foundation is proud to support the Entrepreneurial Development Network, a partnership between George Washington University and Howard University,” said Anna Bard, Wells Fargo Senior Vice President & Community Relations Manager. “DC entrepreneurs will benefit from curriculum pertaining to their business stage, expert university faculty and supportive mentors who have personally experienced the joys and challenges of owning a business. This is a critical addition to D.C.’s small business ecosystem, and I can’t wait to watch participating businesses thrive.”
Over the term of the pilot program, 75 entrepreneurial teams and small business owners from diverse backgrounds, including emerging neighborhoods and underresourced communities, will receive business counseling and strategic assistance from industry experts. Teams will receive an introduction to the Lean Startup method of business model development, including the customer discovery process, which helps businesses scale and adapt their business models based on interviews with potential customers.
OIE, which hopes to draw representation from local founders of color, women entrepreneurs and minority business owners, is leading the effort in partnership with Howard University, the Washington DC Economic Partnership and the D.C. Small Business Development Center.
“Creating new pathways to success for diverse businesses in the District is even more vital now as the health and economic security of our local small business community continues to feel the effects of the pandemic,” said Donna Cooper, Pepco region president. “Through our support of the WDCEP, Pepco is honored to partner in supporting the EDNDC program which will assist the District’s most promising businesses and innovators with proven business development resources and access to the unique market opportunities of these unprecedented times.”
The program will work with its partners to recruit early-stage companies that need business development and go-to-market strategies or who need to pivot strategy or offer new products due to interruptions and risks caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. While the application is open to all, those that do not qualify will be directed to a variety of free resources provided by community partners.
“Entrepreneurs are a critical element fueling job growth in the U.S. economy and will play a central role in the economic recovery post-pandemic. Their participation has grown increasingly important in the DC ecosystem over the past decade. This partnership between George Washington University, Howard University, Wells Fargo, WDCEP and Pepco will help activate and catalyze entrepreneurs throughout the District and position the region for continued economic growth with a particular focus on identifying and supporting underserved and under-resourced entrepreneurs.”, said Grant Warner, Director of HU2 I-Corps.
The new EDNDC program is adapted from GW’s work in the NSF I-Corps and Mentor-in-Residence programs, the Virginia Innovation Commercialization Assistance Program (ICAP) and the Startup Saturdays program at Howard University. “These programs use Lean Startup principles and a structured approach to business mentoring to help scientists, inventors and entrepreneurs take the right first steps in bringing new technologies and innovations to market,” said Bob Smith, director of I-Corps at GW.
GW entrepreneur development programs have resulted in dozens of successful company launches with over $150 million dollars in funding, while GW’s efforts in the Virginia ICAP have helped build a network of 14 universities, five regional business accelerators and 11 state and regional economic development agencies and served over 500 diverse entrepreneurial teams throughout the commonwealth, raising over $22 million in capital. Mr. Smith said, “OIE plans to create similar alliances in DC through EDNDC.”
“WDCEP is committed to identifying innovative ways to collaborate with local organizations to help expand the District’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, while providing much needed resources for our city’s emerging business owners. Together with local universities and partners, we believe the EDNDC program will be a catalyst to support residents across the city,” said Keith Sellars, President & CEO, Washington DC Economic Partnership.
Beginning in January, up to 75 EDNDC start-up teams will attend a free virtual workshop introducing Lean Startup principles and the process of customer discovery. Program lectures will focus on customer definition and segmentation, building industry networks, developing and testing business concepts and planning for entering the market.
Following this introductory program, participants will receive dedicated business support from industry experts who will provide individualized business advice based on the teams’ ideas and stage of development. Based upon these sessions, selected teams will be invited to participate in an intensive two-week customer discovery workshop where they will be guided through the completion of at least 20 customer interviews to test the viability of their business ideas.
Throughout the process, participants will be evaluated by their mentors and instructors for participation in more intensive programming. Teams that record their first 20 interviews will enter the EDNDC mentorship program where they can work with the instruction team on their business model and go-to-market strategies for up to two years, provided they continue to demonstrate progress.
Throughout the program, all EDNDC participants will remain connected to partnering organizations in the District, such as the Washington DC Economic Partnership and DC Small Business Development Centers, investment programming, accelerators or partner banks that can help them reach the next stage of development in their business.
“EDNDC will leave all participants with a better understanding of their market opportunities and stronger integration into the DC entrepreneurial ecosystem as they take the first steps in their business development,” Mr. Smith said.