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D.C. at SXSW: Booting Up a Tech Hub

Grace Dobush/CQ Roll Call

AUSTIN, Texas — The District of Columbia had a strong presence at South By Southwest this year, a sign of the city’s focus on boosting its tech cred.

More than a half-dozen staffers from D.C. agencies were at SXSW Interactive this year, and members of D.C. co-working space 1776 spoke on five panels. The District is home to nearly 1,000 tech companies, according to Digital DC, a branding campaign to highlight the tech companies in the city and draw more in.

The effort launched the week before SXSW. In addition to sponsoring a multiday VIP lounge in downtown Austin, Digital DC hosted a launch party on Saturday that was packed. Attendees chowed down on branded cookies and took advantage of the free drinks while representatives from successful District startups demonstrated their products. Jennifer Boss of Digital DC reported 500 people at the launch party — perhaps in part directed by the branded package tape she and her co-workers wrapped around poles in and around the Austin Convention Center.

In a panel Tuesday, Matt Desjardins of Mayor Vincent Gray’s office and Zach Boisi of newBrandAnalytics explained the creation of Grade.DC.gov. The service collects feedback on 15 city departments via social media and surveys and analyzes and aggregates it to give the agencies customer service grades.

Since its launch in 2012, Grade.DC.gov has collected more than 25,000 reviews and extracted almost 110,000 “insights” with newBrandAnalytics’ proprietary algorithms. Desjardins’ office trained on social media with the departments’ communications staffers to “close the feedback loop” and ensure that customers’ concerns were being addressed.

Tuesday was also the Consumer Electronics Association’s Innovation Policy Day, which had a stage set up on the second floor of a downtown Austin barbecue joint. A jovial discussion about how startups and their advocates can navigate Washington included Mike McGeary of Engine, Laurent Crenshaw of Yelp, Tiffany Moore of TwinLogic Strategies and Michael Beckerman of The Internet Association.

Unable to resist joining the conversation, the CEA’s Michael Petricone jumped on stage shortly after the panel started.

“Internet innovation isn’t just in Silicon Valley,” Petricone said. “It’s happening in your district, whether you know it or not.”

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