The Ballston Business Improvement District, or BID, tonight will kick off a major new marketing campaign that highlights the hub of innovation in that community — plus a new program designed to help entrepreneurs take advantage of that talent.
The invitation-only event in the former Chevy's Fresh Mex space at Ballston Common Mall serves multiple functions.
It will highlight Ballston as a place "where minds meet," a core focus of the new branding campaign. It will introduce Ballston LaunchPad, a new program for startups that has the support of Ted Leonsis, the owner of the Washington Capitals and a nationally renowned entrepreneur. The LaunchPad program itself will announce a new challenge designed to find the next big idea in Ballston. And the entire event takes advantage of vacant commercial space, showcasing it as part of the larger marketing effort.
"It's really to get people to take a second look at Ballston — and what we have to offer here," said Tina Leone, chief executive of the Ballston BID. "People don't necessarily know that we're a real cluster or center for innovation, research, technology, discovery, imagination…."
Tonight's exclusive event is the culmination of months of work.
The Ballston BID, a special tax district created in July 2011, finished its research and design work on the branding campaign just a few months ago.
Aside from a stylish new logo — an orange "B" with something of an idea tree inside to illustrate the focus on connectivity — the idea for LaunchPad grew out of that initial work to compliment the branding effort. Orange is a primary color in Ballston, a nod to the importance of Metro.
The two initiatives are designed to highlight the hub of innovative organizations within Ballston's five-block radius — including DARPA, the Office of Naval Research, the National Science Foundation, and the various academic institutions situated there, such as the Virginia Tech Advanced Research Institute.
And so, while the branding campaign will center on public displays of innovation, the LaunchPad Program will bring a series of programs to the area — most notably, the LaunchPad Challenge.
The challenge will be open to entrepreneurs across Northern Virginia and will begin accepting applications next month. Leone said the challenge is about more than just who can build a better app; she hopes the competition will attract innovators from areas as diverse as nature, energy, food, health, sports and the arts.
"We want people of all different fields to feel like they can apply," she said.
A panel of judges will select 10 participants to go forward through October, paired with mentors from the Ballston community. Those 10 will be pared down to three, who will go before Leonsis to make their pitch — and he will pick who has the "next big idea," Leone said.
The winner will continue to receive mentorship, perhaps a cash prize, and more opportunities to pitch before area venture capitalists.
The BID is still fine-tuning the details, including which Ballston tenants will provide mentors to the competitors. The group is working with Arlington Economic Development and is developing partnerships with higher education institutions to help provide programming.
Over time, the BID will incorporate a long list of placemaking concepts to further enhance Ballston, Leone said.
"This is a great community," Leone said. "There's such an energy here. There's such an intelligence here… It's our job as a BID to get that word out beyond Ballston."