Obama and Innovation DC Style

Jeremy Epstein Business

As a history major, when I think about the “essence” of a city, I look at the core idea or the “seed” from which the city was “born.”

Why is New York an economic powerhouse?

I’d argue that it has to do with the fact that the Dutch came to “New Amsterdam” with the express purpose of commerce. To set up a trading post. That initial push created a snowball that (along w/many other factors, of course) led to the “New Colossus” that is NYC today.

When we look at Washington, DC, the initial impetus was government, so at its core, no matter how much tech entrepreneurs moan about the lack of a start-up culture/critical mass in our nation’s capital, that’s just not going to change. The essence of DC, for better or worse, is a bureaucratic government machine.

That’s not to say that there’s no innovation, it’s just that there’s a different type of innovation.

I had the privilege of sitting on a panel about the “state of the Washington Web” a few weeks ago.

The first question posed to us was “who are the technology movers and shakers in the DC web scene?”

I took a bit of a different tack than some of the other panelists and suggested that Barack Obama’s campaign would do more to shake up the DC tech scene than any other company (and we have some big ones like AOL, Discovery, Verizon, Motley Fool, Northrop Grumman).

According to a must-read article in the Atlantic,

the Obama campaign reported that 94 percent of their donations came in increments of $200 or less, versus 26 percent for Clinton and 13 percent for McCain.

Obama’s claim of 1,276,000 donors through March is so large that Clinton doesn’t bother to compete; she stopped regularly providing her own number last year.

What this has meant for Obama is that he spends less time fundraising, more time politicking, and, as we know, can cost-effectively reach (and raise from) low-dollar donors. It’s a potential Achilles heel for incumbents, no question (if you consider that Hillary was an incumbent, of sorts, in particular). Along these lines, a great post from the Wikinomics blog w/some more stats on the Obama “long tail’” phenomenon.

In a city that is based on politics and where getting people elected (or defeated) is a natural outgrowth of that as a consulting industry, EVERY single political consultant will have to figure out a way to help his/her candidate figure out how to leverage social networks.

One more piece of evidence that with the Internet…everything changes.