Event Recap: Tandem NSI Deal Day (Part 2)

This is the second part of a guest post by John Kaufhold. Dr. Kaufhold is a data scientist and managing partner of Deep Learning Analytics, a data science company based in Arlington, VA. He presented an introduction to Deep Learning at the March Data Science DC Meetup. Tandem NSI is a public-private partnership between Arlington Economic Development and Amplifier Ventures. According to the TNSI website, the partnership is intended to foster a vibrant technology ecosystem that combines entrepreneurs, university researchers and students, national security program managers and the supporting business community. I attended the Tandem NSI Deal Day on May 7; this post is a summary of a few discussions relevant to DC2.

In part one, I discussed the pros and cons of starting a tech business in the DC region; in this post, I'll discuss the specific barriers to entry of which entrepreneurs focusing on obtaining federal contractors should be aware when operating in our region, as well as ideas for how interested members of our community can get involved.

Barriers to innovation and entrepreneurship for federal contractors

One of the first talks of the day came from SpaceX's Deputy General Counsel, David Harris. It captured in one slide an issue all small technology companies operating in the federal space face, namely the FAR (Federal Acquisition Regulations). Specifically, David simply counted the number of clauses in different types of contracts, including standard Collaborative Research And Development Agreements, Contract Service Level Agreement Property Licenses, SpaceX's Form LSA, and a consumer-off-the-shelf procurement contract. The number of clauses is generally 12 to 27 in each of these contracts. As a bottom line, he compared these to the number of clauses in a Traditional FAR-fixed-price with one cost-plus Contract Line Item Number: more than 200 clauses. In discussion, there was even a suggestion that the federal government might want to reexamine how it does business with smaller technology companies to encourage innovators to spend time innovating rather than parsing legalese. The tacit message was the FAR may go too far. Add to the FAR the requirements of the Defense Contract Audit Agency and sometimes months-long contracting delays, and you have created a heavy legal and accounting burden on innovators.

Peggy Styer of Blackbird also told a story about how commitment to mission and successful execution for the government can sometimes narrow the potential market for a business. A paraphrase of Peggy's story: It's good to be focused on mission, but there can be strategic conflict between commercial and government success. As an example, when they came under fire in theatre, special ops forces were once expected to carry a heavy tracking device the size of a car battery and run for their lives into the desert where a rescue team could later find and retrieve them. Blackbird miniaturized a tracking device with the same functionality, which made soldiers on foot faster and more mobile, improving survivability. The US government loved the device. But they loved it so much they asked Blackbird to sell to the US government exclusively (and not to commercialize it for competitors). This can put innovators for the government in a difficult position with a smaller market than they might have expected in the broader commercial space.

Dan Doney, Chief Innovation Officer at the Defense Intelligence Agency described a precedent “culture" of the “man on the moon” success that was in many ways a blueprint for how research is still conducted in the federal government. Specifically, putting a man on the moon was a project of a scale and complexity only our coordinated US government could manage in the 1960s. To accomplish the mission, the US government collected requirements, matched requirements with contractors, and systematically filled them all. And that was a tremendous success. However, almost 50 years later, a slavish focus on requirements may be the problem, Dan argued. Dan described "so much hunger” to solve mission-critical problems by our local innovative entrepreneurs that in order to exploit it, the government needs to eliminate the “friction” from the system. Dan argued eliminating that “friction” has been shown to get enormous results faster and cheaper than traditional contracting models. He continued: "our innovation problems are communication problems," pointing out that Broad Area Announcements -- how the US govt often announces project needs--are terrible abstractions of problems to be solved. The overwhelming jumble of legalese that has nothing to do with technical work was also discussed as a barrier for technical minds—just finding the technical nugget the BAA is really asking for is an exhausting search across all the fedbizops announcements.

A brief discussion of how contracts can become inflexible handcuffs that focus contractors on “hitting their numbers” on the tasks a PM originally thought they should solve at the time of contracting, while in the course of a program it may even become clear a contractor should now be solving other, more relevant problems. In essence, contractors are asked to ask and answer relevant research questions, and research is executed with contracts, but those contracts often become counterproductively inflexible for asking and answering research questions.

What can DC2 do?

  1. I only recognized three DC2 participants at this event. With a bigger presence, we could be a more active and relevant part of the discussion on how to incentivize government to make better use of its innovative entrepreneurial resources here in the DMV.
  2. Deal Day provided a forum to hear from both successful entrepreneurs and the government side. These panels documented some strategies for how some performers successfully navigated those opportunities for their businesses. What Deal Day didn’t offer was a chance to hear from small innovative startups on what their particular needs are. Perhaps DC2 could conduct a survey of its members to inform future Tandem NSI discussions.

Event Recap: Tandem NSI Deal Day (Part 1)

This is a guest post by John Kaufhold. Dr. Kaufhold is a data scientist and managing partner of Deep Learning Analytics, a data science company based in Arlington, VA. He presented an introduction to Deep Learning at the March Data Science DC Meetup. Tandem NSI is a public-private partnership between Arlington Economic Development and Amplifier Ventures. According to the TNSI website, the partnership is intended to foster a vibrant technology ecosystem that combines entrepreneurs, university researchers and students, national security program managers and the supporting business community. I attended the Tandem NSI Deal Day on May 7; this post is a summary of a few discussions relevant to DC2.

The format of Deal Day was a collection of speakers and panel discussions from both successful entrepreneurs and government representatives from the Arlington area, including:

  • Introductions by Arlington County Board Chairperson, Jay Fisette, and Arlington House Representative Jim Moran;
  • Current trends in mergers and acquisitions and business acquisitions for national security product startups;
  • “How to Hack the System,” a discussion with successful national security product entrepreneurs;
  • “Free Money,” in which national security agency program managers told us where they need research done by small business and how you can commercialize what you learn; and
  • “What’s on the Edge,” in which national security program managers told us where they have cutting edge opportunities for entrepreneurs that are on the edge of today’s tech, and will be the basis of tomorrow’s great startups.

There were two DC2-relevant themes from the day that I’ve distilled: the pros and cons of starting a tech business in the DC region, and the specific barriers to entry of which entrepreneurs focusing on obtaining federal contracts should be aware when operating in our region. This post will focus on the first theme; the second will be discussed in Part 2 of the recap, later this week.

Startups in the DC Metropolitan Statistical Area vs. “The Valley”

A lot of discussion focused on starting up a tech company here in the DC MSA (which includes Washington, DC; Calvert, Charles, Frederick, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties in MD; and Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun, Prince William, and Stafford counties as well as the cities of Alexandria, Fairfax, Falls Church, Manassas and Manassas Park in VA) versus the Valley. Most of the panelists and speakers had experience starting companies in both places, and there were pros and cons to both. Here's a brief summary in no particular order.

DC MSA Startup Pros

  • Youth! According to Jay Fisette, Arlington has the highest percentage of 25-34 year olds in America.
  • Education. Money magazine called Arlington is the most educated city in America.
  • Capital. The concentration of many high-end government research sponsors--the National Science Foundation, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Office of Naval Research, etc.--can provide early-stage, non-dilutive research investment.
  • Localized impact. Entrepreneurial aims are often US-centric, rather than global.
  • A mission-focused talent pool.
  • A high concentration of American citizens and cleared personnel.
  • Local government support. As an example, initiatives like ConnectArlington provide more secure broadband for Arlington companies.

DC MSA Startup Cons

  • Localized impact. Entrepreneurial aims are often US-centric, rather than global. (Yes, this appears on both lists!)
  • Heavy regulations. Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR) and Defense Contract Audit Agency accounting requirements can complicate the already difficult task of starting a business.
  • Bureaucracy. It’s DC. It’s a fact.
  • Extremely complex government organization with significant personnel turnover.
  • Less experienced “product managers.”

Silicon Valley Startup Pros

  • Venture capitalists and big corporations are “throwing money at you” in the tech space.
  • Plenty of entrepreneurial breadth.
  • Plenty of talent in productization.
  • Plenty of experience in commercial projects.
  • Very liquid and competitive labor market--which is great for individual employees.
  • Aims are often global, rather than US-centric.
  • Compensation is unconstrained by government regulation.
  • Great local higher education infrastructure: Berkeley, UNSF, National Labs, Stanford...

Silicon Valley Startup Cons

  • Very liquid and competitive labor market--which means building a loyal, talented team can be a struggle.
  • VCs and big corporation investments are unsustainably frothy.
  • Less talent in or exposure to federal contracting.
  • A smaller pool of American citizens and cleared personnel.

Check back later this week to find out what TNSI Deal Day panelists had to say about stumbling blocks to obtaining federal contracts!

General Assembly & DC2 Scholarship

GA DC2 Scholarship The DC2 mission statement emphasises that "Data Community DC is an organization committed to connecting and promoting the work of data professionals...", ultimately we see DC2 becoming a hub for data scientists interested in exploring new material, advancing their skills, collaborating, starting a business with data, mentoring others, teaching classes, changing careers, etc. Education is clearly a large part of any of these interests, and while DC2 has held a few workshops and is sponsored by organizations like, we knew we could do more and so we partnered with General Assembly and created a GA & DC2 scholarship specifically for members of Data Community DC.

For our first scholarship we landed on Front End Web Development and User Experience, which we naturally announced first at Data Viz DC.  How does this relate to data science?  As I was happy to rebut Mr. Gelman in our DC2 blogpost reply, sometimes I would love to have a little sandbox where I get to play with algorithms all day, but then again this is exactly what I've run away from in 2013 in becoming an independent data science consultant, I don't want a business plan I'm not a part of dictating what I can play with.  Enter Web Dev and UX.  As Harlan Harris, organizer of DSDC, mentions in his venn diagram on what makes a data scientist, which Tony Ojeda later emphasizes, programming is a natural and necessary part of being a data scientist.  In other words, there's this thing called the interwebs that has more data than you can shake a stick at, and if you can't operate in that environment then as a data scientist you're asking someone else to do that heavy lifting for you.

Over the next month we'll be choosing the winners of the GA DC2 Scholarship, and if you'd like to see any other scholarships in the future please leave your thoughts in the comments below or tweet us.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Weekly Round-Up: Data Scientists, Startups, Big Data Leaders, and Einstein

Welcome back to the round-up, an overview of the most interesting data science, statistics, and analytics articles of the past week. This week, we have 4 fascinating articles ranging in topics from data scientists job descriptions to contrasting big data and genius. In this week's round-up:

  • It's a Bird! It's a Plane! No, It's Just a Data Scientist.
  • Meet the Startups Making Machine Learning an Elementary Affair
  • What the Companies Winning at Big Data Do Differently
  • What Would Big Data Think of Einstein?

It's a Bird! It's a Plane! No, It's Just a Data Scientist.

This week, we start off with a Smart Data Collective article about how typical data scientist job descriptions tend to be composed of an unrealistic wishlist of things the hiring organization thinks a data scientist is. The article mentions how the term data scientist is very unclear in nature and how it is made up of at least two roles - data management and data analytics - both of which take up a substantial amount of a person's time.

Meet the Startups Making Machine Learning an Elementary Affair

Next up, we have a GigaOM article about startups that are trying to make machine learning tools that business users can use. The article lists 5 startups and talks a little about what each one does and what they're trying to produce.

What the Companies Winning at Big Data Do Differently

This Bloomberg article examines a survey done by Tata Consulting Services on large companies with substantial investments in big data technologies and explains what the differences are between companies that are getting a high return on these investments and companies that are not.

What Would Big Data Think of Einstein?

Our final article this week is a BBC piece that asks the question what happens to genius and big ideas in a world where big data gets so much attention. The author says that coming up with answers becomes relatively easy once you have the data and you know what you want to measure. The problem with this is that it focuses on looking backward and not the creativity and imagination it takes to look toward the future.

That's it for this week. Make sure to come back next week when we’ll have some more interesting articles! If there's something we missed, feel free to let us know in the comments below.

Read Our Other Round-Ups

Guys Vs Girls - Check out the New Data Blog from Local Startup Hinge

Today we are reblogging (with permission of course) a new local data blog, Hingesights  (, from local dating startup Hinge. In their own words:

Hinge is a better way to meet dates. Simply rate your interest in your friends' Facebook friends, then Hinge lets you know when you're both interested. hingelogohighresIt’s a fun way to see who’s out there, and to connect with the friends of friends you may never have met otherwise. Matches always share a social connection, so you’re always meeting through friends.

 This week we look at the difference in how men and women use Hinge, and how it contributes to the rarely understood mating rituals of one of the world’s most mysterious and interesting specimen: the Single Washingtonian.

Hingesights: Guys vs. Girls!

Let the battle of the sexes begin! Our nerds have been at it again, and it turns out guys and girls do not play Hinge the same way. Ladder theorists and evolutionary biologists step aside - Hinge is here to shed a little light on the great mysteries of courtship.

Who makes the cut? It’s common knowledge that girls are pickier than guys. If you want proof, we suggest taking a girl and a guy to a restaurant, and see which one asks to completely restructure their salad. The big question is, how much pickier is the fairer sex? All in all, girls favorite only 16% of their daily potential matches. Remember, ladies-- you don’t have to hoard your favorites. They’re unlimited. It doesn’t mean the guy is your soulmate, just that you’d be open to starting a conversation.

On the other side, guys favorite a solid 34% of their daily potentials. Chivalry, perhaps? Equal opportunity daters? Maybe it’s video game tendencies, and their thumbs just instinctively favorite girls because of the relative location of the buttons on an X-Box controller.

Whatever the reason, our data confirms that girls are pretty darn choosy with their potential dates, and guys are a bit more “open-minded.” Or whatever word you’d like to use there.

The Clooney Effect Another trend we noticed is that as age increases, the likelihood of favoriting potentials slightly increases for women, but actually decreases for men. Are men just losing their motivation, or are they suddenly slammed with dating options as they enter their Clooney years? Either way, we're certainly glad to see women pursuing a solid dating life, regardless of age. Get it, girls.

Our closing takeaways? Both sides need to keep saving favorites! It’s good for you, regardless of where you are on the ladder of life. And ladies of Hinge: live a little! You never know-- your next spontaneous favorite could be your next great date.


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An Introduction to TechBreakfast and Why You Should Care

I want to introduce you to TechBreakfast, a rapidly growing meetup group that hosts events in Baltimore, Columbia, DC, and Northern VA.  So why the introduction? Don't you already have enough Meetup groups to go to? DC2 has at least two good reasons for doing so. First, TechBreakfast demos early stage technology companies from the area. While entrepreneurship and data are different, these two subjects are closely related and the data revolution probably would not be happening if it weren't for the tech startup scene.  Thus, we thought you might just be interested in this area.  While potentially relevant content is a good start, we don't mention any and all tech meetups that come our way. In this writer's humble opinion, TechBreakfast is one of the best run and enjoyable meetups that I have been to ... and I have been to hundreds such events. Keep reading if you want to learn more and discover some exciting upcoming events.


Want to see cool new technology? Want to interact with other cool techies, startups, and business folks? Have some time in the morning? Then come to TechBreakfast, a monthly breakfast in Baltimore, Columbia, DC, and Northern Virginia where entrepreneurs, techies, developers, designers, business people, and interested people see showcases on cool new technology in a demo format and interact with each other . "Show and Tell for Adults" is what we usually say. No boring presentations or speakers who drone on. This is a "show and tell" format where we tell people to show me, don't tell meabout the great things they are working on. Each TechBreakfast begins at 8:00am and goes until 10AM (although people usually hang around later).  This event is FREE! Thank our sponsors when you see them!

  • Wed. Feb. 27, 2013: Baltimore TechBreakfast - Featuring Vince Talbert Success Story - Bill Me Later. Featuring awesome technology companies showcasing their innovations in a demo-format and a Success Stories guest. Presenters for this installment: Vince Talbert, Platfolio, Sexual Health Innovations, OpiaTalk, and ChefTabl. FREE. Location: DLA Piper, Baltimore, MD. Register and info at
  • Fri. Mar. 1, 2013: Insurance BizWorkshop - Just because you are a startup or a small business doesn't mean that things can't go wrong. And when those things go wrong... they can really go wrong. The beauty of insurance is that it's there to protect you when things go wrong. And it doesn't always need to cost an arm and a leg. In the Insurance BizWorkshop on March 1, 2013, we'll bring one of the area's most advanced and notable firms in the insurance field to help you figure out what you need, how little or much coverage you need to cover those risks, and how to save a bundle doing it. Indeed, cover your butt for pennies on the dollar. Cost is $15 if you register by Feb. 27, 2013. More information and register at
  • Wed. Mar. 6, 2013: NoVA TechBreakfast - Featuring awesome technology companies showcasing their innovations in a demo-format. Presenters for this installment: Nanobird, OpiaTalk, Omic Biosystems, Workman, Stormpins. FREE. Location: AOL Fishbowl, Reston, VA. Register and info at
  • Tue. Mar. 12, 2013: Columbia TechBreakfast - Featuring awesome technology companies showcasing their innovations in a demo-format. Presenters for this installment: Thycotic, Gruply, RackTop Systems, MeetLocalBiz, Light Point Security. FREE. Location: Loyola Columbia, Columbia, MD. Register and info at

DBDC Event Review: Learning Analytics - Education, Data, and the Future

Data Business DC's third meetup, Learning Analytics - Education, Data, and the Future,  focused on the opportunities and trends in the education space. It was a packed house with over 100 folks kindly hosted by the great people from newBrandAnalytics who provide social market intelligence for businesses and government.


Onuka "Nuke" Ibe  - Managing Director, Operational Systems & Reporting - College Summit

Nuke spoke about the challenges that College Summit has faced collecting and using data to help students get into college.  In case you didn't know:

College Summit’s mission is to increase the college enrollment rates of youth from low-income communities.We partner with 180 high schools across the country to achieve the common purpose of all students experiencing high school as a launchpad for college and career success.



Arian Arfaian - Senior Engineer - EverFi

How do you know if people are learning when using an online education system? How long did they spend on a particular module? Arian spoke about a new framework that EverFi is developing capable of tracking at a very high fidelity the exact amount of time spent on each piece of content.



Michael R. Nelson - Senior Technology and Telecommunications Analyst - Bloomberg Government

Spoke about the shortage and importance of data scientists. Bottom line, data scientists are in demand and there aren't enough of them!


Paul McGowan - Vice President - CIT Connect Consulting

Paul was a super energetic guy who talked about two main things. One, a longitudinal data set that the state of Virginia had on students; and two, about Apps4Virginia, an initiative to get people to develop apps using Virginia's education data.


Benjamin BengFort - CTO - Unbound Concepts

Benjamin discussed some really impressive products that his company is working on. One that really stood out was their BookLeveler tool, which algorithmically determines the reading level of books (a task that now requires a ton of manual input). They use real teachers to create the training set and then add some impressive special sauce.


Jeff Olson - Vice President of Customer Research - Kaplan Test Prep

We're aware the cookie monster is tracking our movements online, but did you know our reading habits can be tracked too? Jeff is doing some awesome work at Kaplan looking at the reading habits of Kaplan's users. JeffOlson_Kaplan