Washington Post

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A discussion about the need for the federal government to reform its acquisition rules might not sound like it affects many people, but in this region, it definitely does.

For years, the federal government has been able to satisfy its technology needs by dealing with established businesses, or by enticing certified smaller businesses with set-asides and other incentives. But now, innovations are surfacing in a more distributed way; they are as likely to come from a small team as a large research lab or company. And many of those innovators are not currently doing business with the federal government.

Why should we care? Well, we have found out the hard way that the government has a blind spot when it comes to getting new innovators involved in solving current problems in both government service and national security.

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Understanding the difference between power and influence — and how they overlap — helps provide clarity to today’s political and business climate.

Power is the ability to get people to listen to you and act, regardless of whether it is in their interest to do so. Authority can come with a specified societal title such as president, chief executive, general, human resources manager or medical doctor. In these instances, power is often measured by how absolute it is, i.e., the extent to which the power is exercisable without limitation.

Power is perceived by many as the attribute that allows someone to “get things done.” However, let’s not forget that the appearance of authority can sometimes be an illusion. Our society is littered with situations where individuals with impressive titles are actually impotent (a CEO with a recalcitrant board of directors, for instance), or find their authority limited by others (a Democratic president and Republican Congress).

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The numbers are in, and the venture capital parade is largely passing by the greater Washington region — proof is in quarterly investment data from the PwC Money Tree Survey and the National Venture Capital Association.

Although some observers crunched the numbers and concluded that the level of investment in our region was “strong” or “on pace,” the story is more nuanced and frankly more negative — if you believe venture capital is the primary way for our region to grow its tech community.

Here’s the reality of venture investing in our region: it’s anemic. In 2015, venture capital investment in the United States is projected to exceed $70 billion — the second-largest annual venture capital investment level ever. That’s right… since the beginning of time. There has only been one year when venture capital funding was larger than it will be this year, and that was 2000.

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It’s time for all of us in business — whatever our political viewpoints — to call out the current dysfunction in Congress for what it is: certain businesspeople using politics to make money and advance their positions.

In today’s environment of misinformation and deflection — where the causes of our collective ignorance are masked in our growing contempt for our leaders — we must look at Congress and the government and see the problem clearly. The institution is not broken, but the idea of collective responsibility and governance is…and business broke it.

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The proposed merger of Exelon and Pepco is a cautionary reminder of persistent tension between innovation and businesses of scale.

Exelon is a nuclear energy giant. Pepco powers Washington, D.C. and a number of mid-Atlantic states, and has a less-than-stellar reputation for customer service due to its slow response to natural disasters and caller hold times longer than the life spans of certain invertebrates. A merger of these two companies appeared likely as one by one, state power commissions approved the deal until the last of them — the Public Utilities Commission of the District of Columbia — said, at least for now, “no way, no how.”

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The free market economy needs regulation, and we know that thanks to the work of Machine Gun Kelly.

The handsome con man and his ambitious wife survived during the Great Depression engaging in one of the leading entrepreneurial activities of the time: kidnapping for ransom. But they weren’t just brazen criminals, they were working the weaknesses in the system. A key one? They made sure to commit their crimes across state lines.

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It’s that time again. The carnival side show known as the congressional budget process is playing out downtown, and greater Washington is reminded how dangerous it is being a company town when the mill owner is moody.

Yes, a government shutdown would affect our entire economy, as a portion of our workforce would be left without paychecks for period of time. However, the possibility of a reimposition of sequestration limits on federal spending is an ongoing threat. For two years, a short-term congressional agreement allowed federal expenditures to rise higher than sequestration limits. Many suggest our region has adjusted to the lower spending totals, but that is just wrong.

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Democracies are fragile and unique political systems and we should be doing more to protect ours.

It’s historical fact. Almost 1,800 years stretched between the fall of the Roman Republic and the Declaration of Independence establishing our American democracy. And with our current state of affairs in politics and frenzied media, it’s clear to me this nation is in danger of forgetting just how rare and difficult it is to maintain a representative democracy.

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To create jobs, it’s helpful to think about gazelles, those fast-growing entrepreneurial start-ups that rapidly scale into sustainable businesses with high-value jobs and prospects. In the greater Washington region, both community leaders and entrepreneurs invest time identifying these business successes and encouraging new ones to grow. I’ve been looking at data, hunting for patterns, spotting industries in which local gazelles are appearing. What I found both surprised and concerned me.

The U.S. economy has had two cycles of explosive growth in technology over the last 20 years. The first period I refer to as the era of the “Internet printing press.” It lasted from 1995 to 2001 and framed the establishment of the Internet as an infrastructure to support countless business opportunities. The second period I describe as the “era of sharing” — it stretches from 2003 to today. Our region’s participation in each of these two eras of expansion has been very different.

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Baseball great Satchel Paige cautioned, “Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.”

I want to quote him every time I discuss with community leaders what work will be required on the regional infrastructure over the next 30 years. They need to look over their shoulders more often; technology is coming and it’s coming fast. And it’s changing not only how but where we live.

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