Pictured above: (from the left) Lt. Governor Bill Bolling, Steve Case, Jonathan Aberman, and Secretary of Technology Jim Duffey
CIT: Tell us about yourself
Jonathan: I’ve been part of the Virginia entrepreneurial community since 1998. During that time I’ve done lots of different things. At the moment I’m balancing a range of activities that all involve entrepreneurship and startups, including managing Amplifier Ventures, an early stage fund management company I started in 2004, acting as Chairman of FounderCorps, a not for profit that promotes mentorship and entrepreneur education, teaching entrepreneurship at the Robert H. Smith School of Business and co-hosting LeftJab Radio, a nationally broadcast radio talk show on SiriusXM Radio. I’m having a blast, and spend my days working with really smart people who are trying to make a difference.
CIT: Tell us about your current venture.
Jonathan: Over the last two years I have been particularly involved with trying to figure out how to connect the Federal government’s large investment in R&D with entrepreneurial startups, and to connect innovators that are currently invisible to the Federal government into the large need there is for creative solutions to current problems. I’ve worked with DOD and DARPA on a number of interesting projects, and am currently engaging in a three month experiment to bring all of this together called the Ballston Innovation Initiative. This initiative is bringing together universities, innovators, agency program managers and the broader business community to see if we can learn some things about how to bridge this groups and accelerate opportunities for entrepreneurs in our region.
CIT: What advice would you give an aspiring entrepreneur?
Jonathan: There are many characteristics of personality that an entrepreneur must have to succeed, but for me the two most important are self awareness and empathy. If you do not have the ability to be open to what others are saying to you, and have the ability to communicate with others in a way that they will hear, it will be very hard to succeed. Entrepreneurship is a full contact sport where communication matters.
CIT: What events/meetup groups are essential for startups?
Jonathan: There are so many opportunities for entrepreneurs to network these days. For me the criteria should be, where are you most likely to get access to people who are going to help you advance your vision, without the friction of having to network with people who are not really helpful. In other words, find events that are rich in entrepreneurs and less rich in people who want to make their money off entrepreneurs.
CIT: How important is collaboration and knowledge sharing to you?
Jonathan: The day that I think I can stop learning from other people I hope that someone comes up behind me and hits me in the head with a hammer.
CIT: What makes your city’s tech scene unique?
Jonathan: Virginia has a strong and symbiotic relationship with Federal technology, and in many ways this opportunity is untapped. The Federal government spends $140bn a year on research and development, and much of that money flows through agencies based in Virginia. Many of the technologies that shape our lives today came out of Federal R&D. I’d love to see that commercialization process work better than it does today.
Managing Director, Amplifier Ventures