Donna Harris: 1776 Tackles Complex Challenges Head-On

Donna Harris is the co-founder of 1776, a DC-based incubator and VC fund. She started her career at Oracle, and later pursued her entrepreneurial interests at multiple startups. Though each startup experienced varying degrees of success, the ups and downs of her experience ultimately led her to develop the concept of 1776, alongside co-founder Evan Burfield.


Photo Source: MedCity News

1776 is unique in that is was designed to leverage the exclusive resources that DC has to offer in helping startups tackle big problems in highly regulated industries. Close relationships with regulators and policy-makers allow 1776 to focus on startups taking on complex problems that both investors and entrepreneurs often shy away from. By utilizing this mentor network of DC influencers in both the technology and political arenas, 1776 is uniquely poised to help scale startups in education, healthcare, energy, transportation, and smart cities industries. Though not as sexy as the consumer unicorns everyone knows and loves (Snapchat, Buzzfeed, etc.), these industries are ripe for disruption that will have a sweeping global impact.

I appreciated Donna’s emphasis on the fact that entrepreneurship is no longer an exclusive West Coast industry. With the ever lowering cost of technology, the ability to start a company has been increasingly democratized. She highlighted three key trends contributing to this phenomena that have taken shape since the dotcom bubble burst, which were the advent of cloud computing, the rise of social media platforms, and the ubiquity of smartphones. The convergence of these trends and others has made it so that anyone with a laptop can now get an MVP off the ground in a matter of days.


Investors are starting to recognize the potential opportunity the democratization of technology presents to discover powerful companies in previously overlooked places. For example, Steve Case of Revolution Ventures leads an annual “Rise of the Rest” tour, which looks to identify and support high-potential startups in unconventional areas throughout the country. Similarly, companies such as Mattermark and DataFox are developing algorithms to help investors identify high-growth companies that they may not have otherwise been exposed to through their own local network and connections.

At 1776, they have their own approach to supporting unconventional startups. It will be fascinating to watch as their fund matures and their portfolio companies start to take off and tackle the big issues they have targeted.

Written by Michael Kelly, student of Starting A Startup That Matters, Fall 2015. Posted with permission. Original Source.