Washington Post

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Many suggest that a lack of coordination between D.C., Maryland and Virginia politicians and institutions is holding our region back — that we could be attracting more innovation, and more jobs. Frankly, it’s a little simplistic to suggest that if we all just play nice, the region will be able to uniformly flourish.

People in the greater Washington region who talk about the lack of coordination among our jurisdictions often point to Northern California and suggest that its existence in a single state is an advantage. In a Lake Wobegon view of economic development, they suggest a nirvana where counties and localities don’t compete for new businesses or trumpet their advantages to new business formation.

After being in California again last month, doing business in San Francisco, Livermore, Redwood City, Palo Alto and Mountain View, what I saw reminded still belies that capital region argument.

San Francisco has spent considerable effort creating conditions for a technology corridor South of Market. Livermore has invested in an entrepreneur-friendly co-working space to keep startups in the East Bay. When I worked at a law firm in Palo Alto we were offered incentives to locate our offices in downtown Mountain View. The same competition for businesses that we criticize our region’s economic development leadership for pursuing occurs in Northern California, yet somehow that west coast region is successfully driving commercial innovation.

Yes, we need regional coordination in areas of shared resources such as transportation and roads — their interconnected nature requires a coordinated response. Our political leaders should be held accountable for those things. However, asking Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia to coordinate and innovate on business attraction and entrepreneurial support is not rational.

It’s unfair and unreasonable to expect individuals who owe their financial future to promoting narrow economic advantage to somehow zoom out and take on a regional perspective, particularly if they would undermine their own position in the process.

Let’s be realistic. We can ask our universities to coordinate across the region, but they each have objectives they must meet to satisfy their specific constituencies. Politicians are elected to serve a geographic region. Economic development experts are hired to serve politicians and universities. To ask them to promote broader economic development is both unlikely to succeed and also somewhat irrelevant.

Let’s remember that Northern California’s innovation and new business infrastructure grew up before any structures designed to attract them! Its growth was driven by a combination of federal research and development, an educated workforce and the emergence of a new industry — semiconductors. Even today, people will tell you they “work for Silicon Valley.” Similar stories of the emergence of innovation clusters exist across the country. To the which came first, the entrepreneur or the economic development, data show that generally, the entrepreneur comes first.

Healthy businesses are born when entrepreneurs find capital, necessary resources, a favorable regulatory environment and fellow entrepreneurs. More rapid business growth occurs where they can find a ready buyer for their companies, which is why you see a high level of vertical integration between startups and established companies in our nation’s leading innovation communities. To be blunt, entrepreneurs don’t really care where they are when those stars align, only that they align.

Our society uses free market competition as a mechanism to winnow and sharpen entrepreneurial focus — why shouldn’t the same apply to economic development activities that promote business formation and innovation?

Yes, other regions leading our national economy appear to enjoy a high level of coordination, but for the most successful and durable, this coordination is clearly led by the business and entrepreneurial communities.

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I have been saying for a number of years that our national security establishment needs access to entrepreneurs and garage inventors because we as a nation need their agility and new sources of innovation. This is a viewpoint that a growing number of people within the national security establishment have taken up.

Recent acts of terror in Paris and other parts of the world have only accentuated this view. We are constantly reminded that we face national security challenges from small, distributed and agile teams who are using technology against us in unanticipated ways.

We as a country need to respond with technological approaches that are similarly agile and creative. In significant ways, our national security agencies’ existing mechanisms for obtaining innovation inhibit the attraction of new and agile sources of innovation.

However, there are…

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Mark Andreessen and Meg Whitman, two people who ought to know, were recently asked whether “technology creates inequality.” Their answer was a resounding “no.” They were asked the wrong question.

Andreessen is the entrepreneur who co-founded Netscape and has made millions selling his companies to business giants. Whitman heads Hewlett Packard Enterprise. They not only embrace change, but bring it into our everyday lives.

The question should be: Is technology leaving some people behind?

Technology manifests in satisfying human wants — even some wants we didn’t know we had. Many take for granted that…

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I am tired of comparing our transportation system to other nations’ and being embarrassed.

I want to travel on a train that goes 300 mph between Washington, D.C. and New York City. I’d also like to drive on smooth highways. And, while I am at it, I’d like to know that the Federal Aviation Administration’s air traffic control system isn’t relying on antiquated computers.

Somewhere along the way, expecting our national transportation infrastructure to be cutting edge has become more and more like a child wanting a pony under the Christmas tree than a serious policy discussion.

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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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