Insights from the 9th Annual Washington Ideas Forum

The 9th annual Washington Ideas Forum occurred September 26-28 and WDCEP was a proud partner of the event to drive innovative conversations in DC. With hundreds of speakers from political figures to technology experts, The Atlantic and The Aspen Institute brought the whole city together to discuss the most controversial topics of today. Check out our what you may have missed at the event.

Kickoff – Drinks with the District

The Washington Ideas Kickoff brought DC professionals together at Rosa Mexicano for networking over tacos and margaritas. Embracing the lively atmosphere, attendees joined together to discuss working in Washington, their new business adventures, and the ideas they have discovered as innovators. Unique vendor booths were arranged throughout the restaurant and offered an insight of the different businesses throughout DC. For instance, the tech company Fin Digital offered personalized mood readings based on people’s twitter handles and facial recognition software. Additionally, Republic Restoratives Distillery offered samplings of their bourbons and cocktails featuring their civic vodka, and promoted their newest bourbon batch set to launch this month. Other vendors included Data Society, Steadfast Supply, and Open Data Nation. Remarks from both Steve Clemons and Andrew Trueblood of The Atlantic as well as Chad Shuskey of the Washington DC Economic Partnership shed light on this week’s programming and the recent successes of development and innovation in the DC area. Drinks with the District certainly set the tone for the Washington Ideas forum by engaging attendees and building excitement for the panels to come

Wednesday Forum

Innovative thinker and WeWork Co-Founder Adam Neumann brought his infectious optimism to DC. He reflected on a time during college when a professor looked at his idea for a WeLive concept, scoffed and said Adam was too young to disrupt the real estate industry. Adam refused to listen knowing that “dreams are all we have” and created WeWork, which is expanding with locations across the globe. At WeWork everyone “works to make a life, not just a living” because inspiration through collaboration goes hand in hand with feeling fulfilled. Adam emphasized that “work should be about impact, not salary.” People need to find meaning and have an impact.

He mentioned that we are now the “We Generation” where there are no limits and energy is abundant. By 2030, 60% of the world’s population will live in cities, which Adam knows will drive us to find new ways of interacting. Commenting on the recent natural disasters, wars worldwide, and US political climate, Adam shared, “The world is dark right now, but this always happens before the sun rises. This is our opportunity to come together.”

At the Food for Thought Luncheon we heard three DC food and beverage leaders share their take on food culture in the US. &pizza founder Michael Lastoria emphasized that most people today gravitate toward companies that “have passion and give a damn,” so Michael and his team work tirelessly to have intention with everything they do. Additionally, he shared that &pizza gives people what they want – craveable drool-worthy food, while being conscious of health. &pizza is free from artificial flavors and most of the produce used is sourced from local farmers. &pizza was established in DC, but through funding is now expanding to NYC and beyond. Michael left us with a note that funding requires hustle and younger people in this country are at an advantage for creating companies because people want to invest in them since they are the future.

Misfit Juicery co-founder Ann Yang is a perfect example of someone who is young and hustles to solve food issues in innovative ways. A young graduate of Georgetown University, Ann works to address the fact that 20 Billion pounds of fruit and vegetables remain unsold each year. She buys  produce deemed too ugly to sell and transforms it into healthy juices. Ann’s commitment to tackling supply chain inefficiencies in the food industry through entrepreneurship is fascinating. Her desire to solve food issues comes from her belief that “food is a way to take care of people. It’s a universal language.” Since issues evolve over time and aren’t compartmentalized, Ann recommends being a student of the world and acknowledges that “entrepreneurship is not one person, it’s a community.” Lastly, Ann mentioned that we need to address the gap that exists for women in entrepreneurship. “There are so few female founders, yet women have 85% of the purchasing power,” she noted. We need to include everyone when tackling our world’s biggest issues.  

The restaurant industry is notorious for waste. Chef Tim Ma of Kyirisan shared that he and his team do their part to limit food waste by ordering fish and produce several times throughout the week. This conscious ordering practice leads to conscious consumption and creates sustainability in the restaurant business. Towards the end of the panel, the moderator from The Atlantic mentioned the Farm to Table movement and all three panelists agreed that it should not be talked about — it should just be something that is expected of restaurants. A commitment to Farm to Table practices is a standard that diners should hold chefs and restaurateurs so that our food ecosystems are sustainable.

Towards the end of Day 1, SoulCycle CEO Melanie Whelan shared insights about how to build a memorable brand and professionalism. Even with studios across the country and a diverse group of instructors, SoulCycle maintains the consistency of its indoor cycling experience. Melanie shared that the company follows a “freedom in framework” or flexible mindset where instructors are trained, but they encouraged to be authentic. This gives the instructors and riders a more meaningful experience because classes offer a unique experience each time. Melanie emphasized that the “SoulCycle brand is an experience.” She and her team cultivate community at each studio by investing in people and telling a story that keeps riders coming back to SoulCycle.

After discussing SoulCycle’s brand strength, Melanie spoke about professionalism. First on leaders, she mentioned that “great leaders are paranoid” and hyper-aware of their surroundings. Leaders notice the little things, but also maintain a company’s vision. Melanie was then asked about the work-life-balance question often asked of many female leaders and she finds this question irksome. She doesn’t think of work and life something to be balance, instead she believes you must “integrate your life.” Everything should flow together in a way that makes sense for you and your family.

She also gave some advice for professional growth. Each time Melanie is in a new work setting she focuses on learning and growing where you are, rather than worrying about future career moves. A question she suggests asking yourself is “am I getting the most out of my current environment?” This reflection will help you develop meaning and grow professionally.

Thursday Forum

CEO and chairman of Aetna, Mark Bertolini, joined Matt Thompson, the Executive Editor of The Atlantic, to discuss health care in our world today. Focusing on the Affordable Care Act, Bertolini stated that if you want to deal with stabilizing the market, you have to initially have a stable footprint. Bertolini’s fun-loving attitude shined through as he entered the room in converse and a suit while stressing the fact that the time that people spend thinking about their work is not directly related to the success of their work. He explained that he has created a platform where he analyzes getting from “work table to kitchen table” to figure out what is happening within his company and the people that run it. This does not mean that heis looking to intervene in his workers’ homes, but he attempts to get a sense of what is going on with them personally and how that will positively or negatively affect their work. He also strives to work with his employees to see how he can make their working experience better for them. With liberalizing the definition of benefits, Bertolini said that success within the workplace can be more common.

The Washington Ideas Forum had the pleasure of welcoming Mayor Muriel Bowser to the stage, where she shared remarks on the progressiveness of the DC community. Mayor Bowser emphasized that DC is currently a leading city for industries and has developed to the point where DC is no longer “your grandfather’s Washington”. With the help of Mayor Bowser, Washington DC has evolved into a thriving entrepreneurial community.

Many people know Zillow as a hub for buying, selling, or renting houses and other living spaces. CEO Spencer Rascoff discussed how the company delves deeper into the minds of current or aspiring homeowners. Rascoff explained that the house market involves both the left and right side of the brain in terms of buying, selling, and browsing. As forward-thinking and innovative as Generation Z is, they are in fact aspiring to own homes along with the generations before them. In order for the newest generation and other people seeking a good price for housing to acquire it, affordable housing starts with the development.

Secretary Steven Mnuchin of the US Department of the Treasury sat down with Major Garrett, a Chief White House Correspondent with CBS News to discuss the future of money. As most people have noticed by now, there is a decline of physical cash in the United States with the increasing access to technology and mobile banking. However, cash and circulation have not declined at expected rates. Cash will be a universal use for transaction for a very long time. Major Garrett later held a Live Podcast of his program “The Takeout”, a weekly podcast that focuses on recent political news over a meal at a Washington DC restaurant, during the event’s luncheon.

This two-day event was a great opportunity for the people of DC to network and educate themselves on the new and pressing occurrences and topics of the area. We are already looking forward to a whole decade of this forum!