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  • Writer's pictureMaggie Schrock

Insights from DC Startup Week

This One's for the Ladies

Last week I traveled from St. Louis, MO to Washington, DC for DC Startup Week. When I sat on the planning committee for STL Startup Week, I fell in love with the community, the people, and the learning opportunities. I felt the only natural thing for me to do was attend as many other Startup Weeks as possible. After all, these are my people. So, I hopped on a plane, bid my two kids and husband adieu, and set off for the capital city.

If you are unfamiliar with Startup Week, here is a quick summary - it’s a week-long event hosted in various cities designed to celebrate startup ecosystems. These events usually generate thousands of attendees, hundreds of speakers, and host hundreds of sessions where those interested in startups can come to learn, network, and celebrate local innovation.

DC is an incredible city, rich with history, and diversity and although no one can drive, they do have these really neat scooters (which I was forced to try).


Startup Week kicked off on Monday, October 16th, and was centered around the theme: Make Bold Moves. While standing in the check-in line, I overheard someone say, “What’s great about the DC startup ecosystem is everyone helps everyone else.” I smiled to myself and knew this was going to be an experience I was glad I didn’t miss. I struggled a bit to pinpoint my main focus for this blog. I truly gained so many valuable insights that it might require multiple blog posts, but inevitably the one thing I felt called to highlight was the women of DC.

Whoa. The women of DC are a powerhouse of inspiration and success. The number of times I was left speechless and had visible chills after a female-led session or speaker was profound. Here are a few highlights:

  • Mayor Muriel Bowser of DC, yes MAYOR, made a surprise visit to deliver the Welcome Message.

  • The event itself was co-chaired by Rachel Koretsky, Founder and CEO of Upace, and Seema Alexander, Founder of Disruptive CEO Advisory.

  • Citrine Angels announced they’ve invested more than $1 million in female-founded startups.

  • There were 150+ female speakers.

  • Kathryn (Breisch) Adabonyan, Founder of GoPursue, won the early-stage pitch competition.

  • The event was closed out by Angel Rich, Founder of CreditRich (recently valued at $1.7B), and deemed the next Steve Jobs. I’d never actually experienced a true mic drop moment until this.

So what did I learn? What are the insights that I gained from these incredible women?

It’s important to collaborate, but also hold true to your gut instincts.

As women, we may be questioned differently by investors, partners, and advisors (and I suppose realistically, by everyone). It’s important to consider others' points of view, but also be ready to hold true to your gut instincts. Angel Livas is the Founder and CEO of ALIVE Podcast Network, a platform designed with the Black creative and receiver at the heart. She shared that even though a VC expressed to her that the podcast market was overly saturated, she knew that it wasn’t for Black networks. She stood her ground and kept moving. Angel has now received funding from Techstars and angel investors and has been featured in Forbes.

Throughout the week there were countless other female founders who shared similar experiences, held their ground, and went on to build amazing companies.

Thinking about culture and people early on is critical to success.

Rightly so, I am giddy with delight to be able to tie culture and people into the insights from DC Startup Week. My favorite session of the week was a predominately female-led panel discussion on Building a Team that Scales: Lessons, Challenges, and Opportunities from $0 - $10M. All five panelists (4 women) have been founders of early-stage startups and shared the importance of finding people who are generalists passionate about the mission and building something that matters. But also to keep in mind, that “every time you double in size, the team needs are different.”

Also, a very shameless plug, but they each discussed the importance of bringing in an HR leader early on, generally between the 15 - 30 person mark. Each had slightly differing motivations but largely noted that this hire was game-changing in terms of the trajectory of the company.

Impact is a direct result of making bold moves.

I would be remiss to not explicitly call out how beautifully perfect the theme for DC Startup Week was this year. Make Bold Moves. For anyone, the choice to go out on their own to build a company is bold. But, it’s especially bold for women and people in underrepresented groups. We are naturally disadvantaged (some much more than others), we often shoulder the responsibility of caregiving, and we often have to fight harder to get what we want.

While DC Startup Week 2023 was meant for everyone, I personally left the event feeling as though I had just left a completely different planet, where women ruled and success was plenty.

I head to Austin for their Startup Week beginning on November 6th!


Think you might be ready for a Fractional Head of People?

Yes, Loam Culture offers Fractional Head of People engagements, but here’s the thing, there are many other Fractional People Leaders out there right now too. I’ve encountered some wildly talented people professionals and while we all care deeply about people and culture, we may have different philosophies and approaches.

Whether you are hiring a W2 or Fractional Head of People, this is a critical hire. You really need to take time to find the right fit.

At Loam, I place heavy emphasis on developing an intentional and high-purpose culture strategy first. Learn more about that process here. That strategy then drives the creation of a people strategy, followed by the people programs that are implemented. If you’re ready to skip to Chapter 276, we may not be right for one another.

Schedule a free consultation to see if we’re a match. If we aren’t, I have a wide network of other Fractional Heads of People!

Cheers! (coffee emoji)

Maggie Schrock

Founder, Loam Culture

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