Fall Forward into DCWeek 2012

November is here and so is Digital Capital Week – Washington’s largest celebration of new and upcoming tech innovators.  Now in its third year, the weeklong series of events is already off to a fantastic start.  Nearly half of the fourteen sessions and parties between Friday and Sunday sold out.

On Friday morning, local DC startup Touchdown Space opened up 12 private offices and 15 collaborative workspaces for participants to use (free of charge) throughout the week.  The company typically offers its space to mobile professionals at hourly, daily, and weekly rates.

DC Week’s first major session, the 4th Annual Moving Forward Together Secondary Transition Fair, began at 9:30a.m. in the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library.  The two-day fair/forum was geared towards assisting disabled youth and young adults with obtaining jobs, education, and their independence.  During another two-day session, Africa Gathering, an organization focused on promoting African ideas and innovations, invited creative types to help formulate the future of the continent.  Saturday’s conference speakers included Ghanaian software engineer Kwame Andah, co-founder of Coders4Africa, Saran Kaba Jones, founder of FACE Africa, a non-profit that builds water wells in Liberia, and Solome Lemma, Ethiopian philanthropist, White House ‘Champion of Change’ honoree and long-time activist.

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Friday night boasted the highly anticipated and sold out opening party at DC’s new hangout, Penn Social.  The three month old venue was jam packed with people ready to network, and what better way to do so than over a super-sized game of Connect Four?  Three open bars kept the drinks flowing as entrepreneurs, executives, coders, and other sorts kicked back in cozy lounge seating.  Downstairs, patrons tried their hand at shuffleboard, skee-ball, and classic arcade games like Karate Champion.  When District bands Black Masala and Dance for the Dying weren’t playing, sponsors Canon.fm  and Listen Local First kept people grooving to hometown tunes over the sound system.

Saturday started off with the sold out Rails Girls DC workshop, which aimed to offer women a fun first experience in software craftsmanship. The agenda incorporated various tech exercises, discussion, and application building.  Next on the bill was the highlighted Hackathon, presented by AT&T and held at Microsoft's D.C. area /Mid-Atlantic regional headquarters in Chevy Chase, MD.  The event began at 10am and ran through ‘til 6pm Sunday.  Web designers, hackers, and hustlers collected to build apps and sites for fun, as well as compete for prizes.  Favored apps included Safewalkr, designed to help citizens find the best option for safe and quick travel, and SousChef, an app which recites cooking instructions for easy hands-free recipe use.  Hackathon participants were also able to assist CrisisCommons in creating valuable apps used speed up efforts to help victims of Hurricane Sandy.

Another big bash wrapped up Saturday evening at K Street’s Capitale lounge & nightclub.  DC Weekers gathered to celebrate a relatively new DC-based startup called Speek.  On the event schedule, the party was titled Speek Easy: Ban Conference Calls Not Booze.  The company’s 1920’s themed photo-booth was one activity that definitely got people talking.  Developer Ro Rao had this to say about the concept - “Speek is a much easier way to host conference calls. The idea is so antiquated, it needed revamped, rethought.”

According to the FAQ’s on Speek’s website, one person among the potential conference callers must register for a free account.  Once created, the user shares their personal URL with the remaining participants.  The use of a URL eliminates the hassle of punching in bridge numbers and PINS to connect to a call.  Once the phone numbers of participants are entered, they are automatically called and connected.

Speek Co-Founder, Danny Boice, explained that he and other staff members who had previously been executives were “power users of conference calls,” and understood the common frustrations associated with them.  He went on to say that they were all “very passionate about fast, easy, user-friendly programs,” thus they joined forces to produce an efficient and effective alternative.  Consequently, Speek managed to win the top prize of $100,000 at the Distilled Intelligence 2.0 event in DC, presented by Fortify.vc and Mircosoft in October.

During Speek’s party, local author and DC Week attendee, William Michael Cunningham, shared his thoughts on the event as a whole.  He feels it is a “good idea to generate a tech hub in DC,” and says it’s “exciting to see this many entrepreneurs in one place.  There’s definitely huge potential, since the tech bubble burst in the late ‘90’s.”  Mr. Cunningham also feels very strongly about making ethnic minority groups and women feel more included in such ventures, a topic to be discussed in Monday’s sold out session Untapped: The Role of Inclusion in the Future of Technology and Your Organization. He concluded his thought by stating, “It’d be a shame if we miss the next Bill Gates, because she’s a she and dark-skinned.”  Thankfully, it seems as though DC Week is already working hard to fill that void and will continue to do so in the coming years.

Despite the fact that many events are filling up, sold out, or limited to attendees with Gold or VIP passes, there are still plenty of others available.  For a complete list of DC Week sessions, meetups, parties, and conferences, please review the event schedule and be sure to check back here throughout the week for more updates from Metro Business Media.

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