When Amelia Friedman, 24, needed money to launch her app-building tech startup, Hatch Apps, in the summer of 2016, she didn’t have to go far. The Washington, D.C. native found an enormous ecosystem of friends and supporters in the capital region eager to fund Hatch themselves or connect her to others who could and would. In the end, Hatch’s $1 million seed round was more than half funded by Friedman’s contacts.
Friedman’s story might have ended differently in another part of the country. In 2017, 79% of venture capital was raised by all-male teams, or companies with no women on the founding team. In many cities, the “boys club” still dominates, propelled by a venture capital community where 94.3% of decision-makers are men.
But Washington is quickly becoming a female-friendly counterpoint to the bro culture of Silicon Valley. Forbes named D.C. the #1 city for Women in Tech in 2017 with women earning 94.8% of what men earn on average. On Feb. 21, the financial tech company, SmartAsset, ranked D.C. as the top city for women in tech for the fourth year in a row, with 41% of tech jobs filled by women (compared to a national average of 26%). Overall, D.C. has the highest percentage of women-owned businesses relative to men-owned and equally-owned, at 45%.
The female-friendly climate didn’t happen overnight. Washington attracts grass roots organizers in politics, and that has helped create a start-up culture in private enterprise. There are women’s groups for almost everything. There are groups for Republican women opposition researchers, Democratic women opposition researchers, and bipartisan women opposition researchers. There are associations for women in corporate law. Women in diplomacy? Join Diplo-babes. And, yes, there are groups for women in tech, with organizations like Beacon (funded by Mayor Muriel Bowser’s office), DC FemTech, and The Vinetta Project, growing at steady rates. When WeWork handed out cash prizes in 2017 for the top startups in the DC region, all three categories were won be female-led firms, the only region in the world in WeWork’s global awards where that happened.
Success breeds success. As word has spread, D.C. has become a bastion for women engineers who don’t love the California tech scene. The U.S. Digital Service, started under President Barack Obama to disrupt the government from within and expanded under President Donald Trump, is more than half women. From there launched the powerful TechLadyMafia list, which bands together women engineers and entrepreneurs. Many of the women who left government after Obama, stayed in D.C. and started companies.
Friedman’s path went through the Halcyon incubator in Georgetown, a nonprofit that gives grants to would-be start-ups. There she met Param Jaggi, another young entrepreneur. Together, they started Hatch, which allows people to build apps without having to write their own code, opening up development to a much wider array of entrepreneurs. Hatch led them to Y-Combinator, another small-scale start-up funder, and to their $1 million first seed round. Now the two employ 22 people and they’re about to close a second seed round of $1.3 million.
Not coincidentally, what Hatch does also helps women entrepreneurs, such as Molly Matthews, a grandmother with zero tech experience who used Hatch to launch a career-development app. The company helps non-technical people realize their ideas and dreams.
“I think what we’ve done, it’s only possible in D.C. At least the way we did it,” Friedman says. “Here women-run companies can grow big.”