Justin Antonipillai, Founder and CEO, Wirewheel.io
Hometown: Arlington, VA
Story or event that inspired your company/venture? I was deeply involved in data privacy and data protection areas during the Obama Administration - and co-led the US Negotiating Team for the EU-US Privacy Shield. I also led a number of data stack modernization and open data efforts. Data privacy and data protection are incredibly interesting and inspiring areas, and we are excited to be helping some large companies show just how much they are doing to protect consumer data.
Advice you’d give to a new/interested entrepreneur? Never give up.
As a founder, best thing about being based in DC area? This is a terrific community - with support from other entrepreneurs, and communities like Arlington that are so supportive of startups. Add in the deep bench of talent and expertise from the universities and government, and I am excited about what we can do here in DC.
Meghan Gaffney Buck, CEO, Veda Data Solutions
Hometown: Cincinnati, OH (In DC since 2005)
Story or event that inspired your company/venture? I was an accidental entrepreneur. When I founded VEDA Data Solutions, I was a political consultant and my co-founder, Bob Lindner was an astrophysicist. After a long and productive 2-hour phone call one afternoon, we knew we were going to create something important together and that it would tackle major problems on a large scale. By using data science, we were able to create that big impact. Today, VEDA Data Solutions is solving a $3 billion problem in the healthcare industry by pioneering an all-in-one data solution for health insurers and systems, using machine learning methods to fix healthcare.
Advice you’d give to a new/interested entrepreneur? Seek out a community of peers and mentors who believe in you, and are willing to support you along your journey. Make sure you are open to feedback and find mentors who are willing to give you good and honest advice, because you will need it often.
As a founder, best thing about being based in DC area? DC is a fantastic city to be a female founder and CEO. There is a tremendous amount of support within the community. For us, The Vinetta Project community is an incredible resource and support system. There are a growing number of mentors, fellow founders and investors that make DC a uniquely supportive place for entrepreneurs, especially for women.
The Worst: Only one direct flight a day to our other office in Madison, WI.
Tripp Donnelly, CEO & Founder, RepEquity
Hometown: Washington, DC
Story or event that inspired your company/venture? Working inside a publicly traded company I’d help grow through IPO, I identified a vastly underserved market that existed within online brand and reputation management. At that time, Google and other search engines were just beginning to reshape the Internet, and social media was still a fledgling industry. Despite the uncertainty of this ever-changing environment, I saw the opportunity to position his new company in uncharted territory.
Fast forward 10 years, and RepEquity has become one of the fastest growing companies in America, continuing to lead and redefine the online brand and reputation management industry. While RepEquity has since expanded into other services, working with major corporations such as Amazon and eBay, its roots remain firmly planted in the pioneering brand management platform that I first launched in 2008.
Advice you’d give to a new/interested entrepreneur? Read Teddy Roosevelt’s Man in the Arena. If you don’t get it, read it again. If you don’t get it after that, stick to your day job.
As a founder, what’s the best and worst thing about being based in D.C. area? As a native Washingtonian, it’s been exciting and gratifying for me to see DC’s transformation from a sleepy political town to a business-minded cosmopolitan city, bolstered by incredible talent attracted to the District’s market opportunities. Besides the traffic, the worst thing about being based in DC is those that confuse politics and business.
Bryan Fratkin, CEO, SparkInfluence
Hometown: Washington, DC
Story or event that inspired your company/venture? Connecting advocates to their legislators online has been around for 20+ years and I've been in the grassroots and PAC space for more than a decade. Over that time, and over the course of building hundreds of advocacy efforts, I grew frustrated, wanting to not only give constituents a better, easier user experience in making their voices heard. It's those years of frustration that told me there had to be a better way. I set out to create SparkInfluence. What we've created is one unified, data-driven grassroots advocacy and PAC platform leveraging all the tools an effort needs to educate, engage and empower communities to affect change across the country and around the world.
Advice you’d give to a new/interested entrepreneur? Don't be afraid to take the first step. Build something that you need in your life, be passionate about it, and tackle the challenges as they come. The key is to start now. Start today. There's never a more perfect time than now.
As a founder, best thing about being based in DC area? As a DC Native, our city's home to amazing people from all walks of life. Starting a business here was one of the easiest decisions I've had to make. The #dctech community, the brilliance of available talent, the proximity to those we're trying to reach - it all made sense.
The worst thing: I love proving people wrong that DC is "just a swamp" and a "politics only" town. The idea that great tech can't come from our Nation's Capital continues to be debunked daily when you see, hear and read about the groundbreaking companies, causes and concepts coming out of this city.
Bobby Saini, CEO, UpsideDoor
Story or event that inspired your company/venture? I was raised by a family that is guided by the concept of SEVA – performing service without any expectation of a return. Several years ago, as my father and I talked about the future of his real estate practice, two things hit me like a ton of bricks. The first was how much it cost homeowners to sell a home. Someone selling a $700,000 home ends up paying $42,000 in commissions. The second was just how many inefficiencies there are in the process of selling a home.
At that moment, I committed myself to helping homeowners spend less when selling a home (keep more of their home’s equity). To get there, I needed to take a fresh look at the process of selling a home and find ways to eliminate inefficiencies.
To date we helped our customers save over $1M of their home’s equity.
Advice you’d give to a new/interested entrepreneur? Eliminate the noise. Focus on execution and don’t get distracted by the hype.
Build a talented, mission-focused team. A strong team that believes in what they are doing dramatically increases the odds of success.
As a founder, best thing about being based in DC area? Worst? The best thing about the DC area is that it’s easy to find super smart talent that is committed to bringing about change.
The greatest challenge about being based in DC is that we live in a sort of “fundraising shadow” of more prominent tech hubs.
Collin Gutman, Managing Partner, SaaS Ventures
Hometown: Bethesda, MD
Story or event that inspired your company/venture? I co-founded the country's first enterprise software accelerator in 2012, and as the venture capital market evolved, I saw a major gap in seed stage funding and started a fund to help fill the gap.
Advice you’d give to a new/interested entrepreneur?Don't raise money just because. The expectations go up exponentially, and you become 100% committed to your venture - you can't leave even if it takes 7, 10, 13 years to get to an exit. Be very thoughtful before taking in other peoples' money - it sounds easy and obvious, but it should not be.
As a founder, best thing about being based in DC area? Worst? The best thing about being in DC is the amount of intellectual capital. If you want bright people, especially young ones, DC might be the best area in the country. The downside is that DC has a smaller and tighter venture capital ecosystem than almost any city in the country, even much smaller ones, so it's hard to find enough investors locally - most rounds require building a consortium with those in other cities.