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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

How Foster.ly Came To Be

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Although DC is known for being a transient city of 20-somethings, I was actually born locally -- and aside from a stint in the midwest for college and graduate school -- I’ve lived and worked here my whole life.  The DMV (DC, Maryland, Virgina) area invested in me throughout my upbringing, and this is a community about which I care deeply.

From waiting tables to slinging coffee, working in finance to directing non-profits, I’ve been fortunate to have some great professional experiences. And despite having both an MBA and a law degree, my real passion is for something they do not teach (well, something they don’t teach *well*) in any classroom: entrepreneurship.

In early 2011, I left my job as Vice President and General Counsel for a local creative interactive agency and took some time to travel as I figured out what I wanted for myself professionally in the long run.  As I was figuring out my next move, I couldn’t sit still and “just enjoy the time off” as others encouraged me to do.  

In the Spring of 2011, partly out of my own selfish need to interact with people while I was on “sabbatical” and partly out of the fact that I have always loved helping people, I began holding “Office Hours,” a concept whereby I’d pick a local coffee shop, tweet out where and when I would be there, and anyone who wanted to could come hang out and get as much free advice/feedback/conversation as I could offer.  If I could help you, I would.  If I couldn’t, I would try to find someone that could.

At first, a few friends came just to see if I was really there.  And then some people started coming by who heard about the free business and legal advice being handed out in coffee shops. Some days, nearly twenty people would show up -- some I knew; most I didn’t.  Some people came by just so that, like me, they didn’t have to spend the day alone.  It was great.  

People would come early and stick around late.  People would collaborate, help each other out, and everyone was better off for it.  We learned to leverage the power of social media to create pop-up co-working spaces for entrepreneurs.  Above all, we built community.  

Soon, “Office Hours” began taking over local coffee shops (as evidenced by others having them as well), and we realized that there was a genuine need and local demand for co-working, collaborating, and fostering community for entrepreneurs.  We wondered: What if local entrepreneurs from the District of Colombia, Virginia, and Maryland had an opportunity to co-work for an afternoon at no cost with no agenda other than helping each other out?  That’s how “Study Hall” was born.  (You can check out a fantastic video recap by Justin Gutwein/ShineOn Storytelling here:
http://vimeo.com/28791098)

I identified three groups of individuals who were engaging in Study Hall: 1) people interested in entrepreneurship; 2) entrepreneurs interested in keeping tabs on what’s going on throughout the community; and 3) people who want to interact with the entrepreneurship community (e.g. government employees, accountants, and service providers, etc.)  Despite an individual’s respective classification, the same questions were consistently asked: “Where are the funding sources?,” “where do people co-work?,” and “how do I find someone to help code my idea in to reality?”

One afternoon, I decided to start keeping track of the answers and created an online resource “A DC/MD/VA Entrepreneurship Primer.”  In the Fall of 2011, I further developed this primer in Foster.ly, a more thorough listing to help people in the community find what they need.  Today, after several iterations, many conversations, and the tireless help of some absolutely amazing local people who love this community as much as I do, I’m proud to announce that the next version of Foster.ly will launch in the next few weeks.

As a sneak preview, here is just an overview of what you can expect to see when Foster.ly goes live.

Directory: The Foster.ly directory will enable community members to meet and search for the best resources in our community: People, businesses, groups and events. For example, iFoster.ly can help you find a female graphic designer who lives in Virginia that is available for freelance.

News: By enabling community members to submit links to articles, press releases, blog posts and more, the news section will foster conversation among the community, drive traffic to websites in the community, and provide a venue for people to comment on the postings.

Events Calendar: Not only has finding the right event to go to become increasingly difficult as the entrepreneurship community becomes more active, but days are now frequently booked with several different events to choose from.  The events calendar will allow you to easily sort and search events that might interest you and avoid planning events which might conflict with other events.

Study Hall: Formally Study Hall DC, we’ve merged Study Hall under the Foster.ly umbrella (1/19 is the next event, register here), and as such, Foster.ly will have an online and offline presence.  We'll also share some exciting announcements in the upcoming weeks.

The Blog: Recognizing that all of the content on the existing Foster.ly site doesn’t fall in to one of the above categories, we’re going to throw the extra content in to a blog.  As a community member and/or subject matter expert, you’ll be able to create content and post it to our blog.  Eventually, we’ll launch a resource guide section of the site which aggregates all of the community created content.

What’s Next?

As it turns out, Silicon Valley is significantly larger in size as the DMV area, but our mid-Atlantic region actually fosters a series of robust entrepreneurship communities. One of the goals of Foster.ly is to help bridge the geographical and conceptual gap and elevate the entrepreneurial reputation of our region.

The above is only the beginning and there's a lot more in the works. In the meantime, here are a few things you can do to help:

(1) Sign up on the Foster.ly website (it only takes a second) to stay up to date with our upcoming announcements.  (We have some great things in store.)

(2) Follow us on Twitter and give us a shout out at @Foster_ly.  (To make it easy on you, here's an example: "I'm part of the DC/MD/VA entrepreneurship community. Are you? Join me @ http://Foster.ly")

(3) Get involved.  Foster.ly is for the community, by members of the community, and there is lots to do. (From coding to copy writing and things in between.)

If you want to get in touch, pop the Foster.ly team an email at info@foster.ly or StudyHall@foster.ly.  

Lastly, to those of you who have contributed to the development, iteration, and success of Foster.ly and Study Hall to date, thank you. As you're likely already aware, we'll be highlighting your unique contributions when the site relaunches. 

With a great deal of community based excitement,
Adam

2 comments:

  1. Looks like awesome plans ahead! Looking forward to being involved!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Keep it up adam. I love seeing all the success you're having.

    ReplyDelete