Mason hosts Accelerate 2022, a venture capital conference


Whether you’re an investor, a job seeker, or a techie in any form, if you’re not paying attention to what is happening to the tech sector in this region, you’ll be missing out on some amazing opportunities.

That’s why George Mason University has partnered with local and state economic development organizations, innovative corporations, and a small army of judges and mentors for Accelerate 2022, a venture capital conference threaded with tech, innovation, entrepreneurship, and business community engagement. The event will be held October 19-20 on Mason’s Arlington Campus.

Paula Sorrell. Photo by Creative Services

The goal is to showcase the next generation of cutting-edge ideas, technologies, and startups in Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia for local and coastal investors. 

“We want to see increased investment in promising new companies,” said Lauren Bigelow, CEO of the Growth Capital Network (GCN), who helped plan the conference.

Event speakers include Mason alum Paul Misener, vice president, global innovation policy and communications at Amazon; Bobby Franklin, CEO and president, National Venture Capital Association; and thought leaders from Bloomberg, Johnson & Johnson, Blackstone, Siemens, Department of Energy, and a handful of venture funds, to name a few.

While keynotes and panels focus on the venture capital firms and their perspective, Accelerate 2022 is also showcasing several dozen startup companies, innovative corporates, and top students who are focused on Smart and Connected Cities.

Why Mason? Why now?

“Mason sees its role as an educator and convener, and it has a long history of being a good partner,” said Paula Sorrell, Mason’s associate vice president of innovation and economic development. “Coming into the market more than a year ago, I found the local entrepreneur community was extremely supportive with education and making connections. I was trying to discern what Mason’s role could/should be and what gaps we could fill.”

After speaking to a range of “knowledgeable ecosystem champions,” as well as other universities, investors, entrepreneurs, service providers, and government/economic developers, Sorrell found that themes were emerging: the ecosystem needed more mentors, more early seed funding, and there was a gap in Series B and follow-on rounds available.

The mentor issue has been solved with Go Virginia support and a partnership with Virginia Bio, said Sorrell. “The program hires experienced entrepreneurs to mentor start-ups under the Virginia Small Business Development Center (SBDC) program Innovation Commercialization Assistance Program (ICAP), which is run by Mason.” 

Lauren Bigelow. Photo provided

Sorrell also reached out to a former colleague of 15 years, Bigelow, to see if she’d be willing to create an annual event in Northern Virginia.

“She’s a pro at curating amazing investor events and content, and fortunately she agreed,” said Sorrell, who oversees the Office of Technology Transfer, the federal and state programs that support entrepreneurship and small business, including the SBDC, the Procurement Technical Assistance Center, four business incubators, a maker space, and entrepreneurship programming at Mason.

“Northern Virginia and the DC Metro area are poised for exponential growth over the next decade,” said Bigelow, who has managed more than 100 finance and entrepreneurship conferences, ranging from local to global.

“The arrival of large tech company operations, including Microsoft, Google, and Amazon complements the defense contracting industry and its engineering expertise in a unique and compelling way,” Bigelow said. “We can already see a range of startups in cyber, SaaS [Software as a Service], defense tech, and health care whose success could redefine the region’s economic development prospects and job opportunities.”

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