Ben Psillas, Founder, Debx
Hometown: Charles Town, West Virginia
Story or event that inspired your company/venture? I started Debx due to my own frustrating with using my debit card and not receiving any rewards/points/miles with each purchase.
Advice you’d give to a new/interested entrepreneur? Build an MVP and prove customers are raving fans before spending a bunch of time and money.
As a founder, best thing about being based in DC area? Talent pool in the area. There are a lot of very bright and accomplished individuals in the Washington, D.C. area. Worst: for our industry, there are not a lot of individuals with fintech experience and there doesn’t seem to be as much of a massive disruptive and growth mindset of the West Coast/Silicon Valley.
Samuel Owen, Founder, Otolith Labs
Hometown: Portland, OR
Story or event that inspired your company/venture? Read an article about how the body has more than five senses, one being the sense of acceleration. As a physicist I understood acceleration sensors and had a simple question - how can I interact with the human acceleration sensor? Three years later and this simple question has led to the most effective solution for motion sickness, VR sickness, and the first fast acting relief for vertigo.
Advice you’d give to a new/interested entrepreneur? Nobody is going to steal your idea until it's a proven business, the idea is only 1% of the work. Don't be afraid to talk to investors and others that would help you because you think someone will take it from you.
As a founder, best thing about being based in DC area? Worst? Lots of intelligent people to hire and get help from. Worst thing: Investors didn't make money with startups and are very risk averse to anything innovative and not already revenue generating.
Elise Whang, Founder, SnobSwap
Hometown: Washington, DC
Story or event that inspired your company/venture? We have been addicted to hunting secondhand designer items at brick-and-mortar consignment and vintage shops for years. It's such a thrill when you save hundreds of dollars while also doing something good for the environment. We always shopped at our favorite consignment shops because they are a trusted source for authentic luxury as the stores always authenticated their merchandise. As we got to know the owners, we found that they were also frustrated because they had trouble going online where many of their customers were now shopping. One night, as I tried to shop my favorite stores, the idea for SnobSwap sparked. I kept looking for websites of the stores I wanted to shop – a few had websites, most did not. And of those who did have a website, it was difficult to shop – inventory was limited or not current. There were other marketplaces like craigslist or eBay but the sellers were not vetted and I've gotten burned before. So I thought, it’s time to bring the resale industry online. This is a $25B industry that was mostly offline. I called my co-founder and the idea was set into motion.
Advice you’d give to a new/interested entrepreneur? Know when to pivot and don't be afraid of doing it because it's part of the growing and improving. The biggest mistake is not to try.
As a founder, best thing about being based in DC area? Worst? One of the best things about DC is the diversity of smart people doing interesting things! As we continue to see rapid growth, the challenge has been recruiting more talent with a background in fashion and tech. If that’s you, contact me.
Jason Green, Co-Founder, SVP and GC, SkillSmart
Hometown: Gaithersburg, MD
Story or event that inspired your company/venture? I served as Associate White House Counsel to President Obama from 2009 until 2013. During that time period, as we engaged business leaders in response to the Great Recession, it became clear that our talent development system was broken and to ensure the continued competitiveness of the American workforce that we needed to provide clearer tools for job seekers to understand how their previous experiences qualify them for new jobs, how to upskill and how to access economic opportunity. That's why we started SkillSmart.
Advice you’d give to a new/interested entrepreneur? Entrepreneurship isn't a business decision, it's a life decision.
As a founder, best thing about being based in DC area? DC has a wonderful, burgeoning start-up community full of entrepreneurs largely trying to solve large, complex problems. It's a dynamic community that I'm proud to be a part of and constantly inspired by.
Enam Noor, CEO & Founder, Insightin Health, a decision engine for member acquisition, retention, and engagement for healthcare industry
Hometown: Chicago, IL
Story or event that inspired your company/venture? Having worked in the healthcare industry for last 10+ years, it became clear there was no way to access a true data aggregator of human activities in one platform for the complete life-cycle of member engagement. This critically valuable data resides in multiple different silos resulting in generic communication with the consumers. Empowering the consumers with knowledge and better personalized experience in all aspect of healthcare journey is what our platform does!
Advice you’d give to a new/interested entrepreneur? Don’t just develop an idea and concept and pitch to the investors. Develop a business model with revenue and create a sustainable cash flow prior to scaling.
As a founder, best thing about being based in DC area? Being in the healthcare industry, a lot of the policy making happens right here. Having the right access to the right people is much easier in D. C. – including the investor communities.
The worst? I hate the D.C. traffic—that’s probably nothing new. However, that sometimes creates a bad commute experience for the team member if the office is right in D.C.!