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'Great Entrepreneurs Walk Among Us'

Ballston BID launches initiative, competition to help startups.

Ballston rolled out the orange carpet for area entrepreneurs and investors Thursday night.

The Ballston Business Improvement District, or BID, formally kicked off its new marketing campaign to brand the community "where minds meet," as the new slogan goes.

"Truer words have never been spoken," Arlington County Board Chairman Walter Tejada said. "Ballston is Arlington's hub of science and technology."

About 150 people showed up to the exclusive event at what was once the Chevy's Fresh Mex space at Ballston Common Mall — but now has been transformed into a place where the BID can host programming for its new entrepreneurship initiative, LaunchPad. Even the margaritas were orange, a nod to the nearby Metro line.

[PHOTOS: LaunchPad Takes Off in Ballston]

Tina Leone, chief executive officer of the BID, announced the new LaunchPad challenge, a competition open to entrepreneurs across Northern Virginia. A panel of judges will pare applicants down to 10, who will spend months with area mentors developing their ideas. Eventually, three will be given the chance to pitch Ted Leonsis, the owner of the Washington Capitals and a nationally renowned entrepreneur.

"The things that happen behind closed doors, we want to bring that out to the public — so people can see that this is the place where minds meet," Leone said. She thanked Leonsis for his support and called him the inspiration for the challenge.

Leonsis, for his part, talked a little about his first startup — a red, white and blue snowcone operation he started as a student not far away.

Leonsis and fellow entrepreneurs Steve Case and Donn Davis have raised $450 million for their Revolution Growth fund. He spoke briefly about the first $50 million invested from that fund — in AddThis, FedBid, Resonate Networks and Echo360. Beyond that, "We have a lot of money to put to work," he said.

"We're here to fund the next big companies that will start their business here and create jobs in Northern Virginia," Leonsis told the crowd. "We think that's a noble calling."

Leonsis said he dismissed the idea that only new, innovative companies could be born in Silicon Valley. Northern Virginia has a creative class with "unbelievable talents and gifts," he said.

"We want to help," Leonsis said. "We think there are great entrepreneurs walking among us."

Leonsis praised the BID, saying, "The community is really coming together to really stimulate the creative class."

Adam Zuckerman, founder of the Washington-based Foster.ly, said, "What's going on in Arlington right now is fantastic."

"It's important to have community support community," he said. "Mentorship, knowledge, experience and relationships are what's needed to support entrepreneurs."

The Ballston BID will be working with Arlington Economic Development — based just a few blocks away — on its LaunchPad initiative.

"The excitement, the activity, the folks who are here, it shows the energy around entrepreneurship, around startups in Ballston and in Arlington," said Jennifer Ives, director of business investment at Arlington Economic Development.

Also see: 'Where Minds Meet' — Ballston BID Kicks Off New Marketing Campaign

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Pierre Wilson February 15, 2013 at 11:36 AM
Is the launch pad competition limited to Ballston residents?
Jason Spencer February 15, 2013 at 07:26 PM
Hi - No, the competition is open to anyone. There are certain requirements that sort of limit that to the greater Washington area — those who advance, for instance, must be able to meet with their mentors and complete other programming — but there's no set boundary defining who can participate. Hope that helps!

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