It was around this time last year that 1776 co-founders Evan Burfield and Donna Harris first announced the plans to open their world-class incubator space. Approximately a year later, the duo has another big announcement for the District: To close out the Challenge Cup competition and celebrate the startup ecosystem here in D.C. and those around the world, 1776 will be hosting the inaugural Challenge Festival from May 10-17.
On a call with InTheCapital from Tel Aviv, where he was helping operate that leg of the Challenge Cup, Burfield expressed his disbelief at how his March 2013 idea for a global startup competition has all managed to come together.
“It was a crazy, crazy idea when we came up with it, but it’s been just unbelievable to really come and get to interact with all these startups,” Burfield said. “I keep imagining what it’s going to be like May 17 when we have that top eight out of the 64 competing for the Cup – I think it’s going to be an exciting, inspiring, intellectually fascinating show for everyone.”
A preliminary schedule of events for the May festival was released on Tuesday. Burfield said they focused on bringing four elements together when planning the week: the competition itself, which will be going on all week; the thought leaders discussing the trends in startups and innovation; the communal aspect, thanks to events run by 1776 and the community itself; and the celebration, with parties to both start and end the week and galas along the way.
In many ways, then, the Challenge Festival will start where DCWEEK left off.
“Peter [Corbett] was already talking about the fact that the evolution of DCWEEK needed to go global. it needed to be not just a celebration of D.C. by D.C. but something that would attract other people in the world,” Burfield said. “We’d already been thinking about the idea of a global startup competition, and that was when it sort of came together.”
DCWEEK pulled in more than 10,000 people for each of its last two efforts, both massive successes, and Burfield hopes they can match that kind of turn-out in the first year of the Challenge Festival.
And while the overarching theme of the event is the global promotion of startups, 1776 has structured the lineup of events to make it so that “almost anyone in Washington can get involved in this,” Burfield said. “Our hope is really that this is a very inclusive method and that everyone and that we really do make this something that almost everyone across the D.C. region feels ownership in and comes to take part of.”
One key benefit of the Challenge Festival is sure to be the recognition it will bring not only to D.C.’s innovative hub but also to the city in general. The big win, Burfield said, is “the ability to showcase the fact that D.C. has a unique startup community.”
“What’s so exciting for me, Donna [Harris], Peter [Corbett] and everybody else isn’t just, ‘Hey, D.C.’s got a startup scene like everybody else,'” he added. “It’s that there’s something really special about the potential that D.C. has to be a place where people can come to build awesome startups and really change the world and tackle these big problems.”