Washington D.C. Emerges as Cybersecurity Mecca, But Without Cute Tech Scene Nickname

Silicon Fortress? Pentagon Valley?

Large Storm System From Midwest Makes Its Way East

“Silicon Hill” was always just a terrible name. (Photo: Getty)

Sara Sorcher, deputy editor of CSM’s killer new cybersecurity blog Passcode, published a landmark story about the “gold rush” to become the top cybersecurity tech scene. Ms. Sorcher didn’t go far enough to declare a victor in the fight for cybersecurity dominance, but we’ll happily do it.

It’s Washington D.C., period. Washington has the government contracts and the mega-corporations that win them. They have the talent, the military institutions, and they’re listing twice as many jobs as any other competitor in the space. The one thing they don’t have, however is a name—a catchy, buzzy, brand-y dumb nickname to pull the scene together. From Passcode:

Silicon Valley, for instance, even has a catchy moniker, but “the Greater Washington region,” [Greater Washington Board of Trade CEO Jim Dinegar] says, does not “really roll off the tongue– and [people] couldn’t really say anything about here other than that it is the home to government.”

To conquer the branding challenge, Dinegar hired a communications firm, Washington-based APCO Worldwide, to develop a comprehensive list of the entire region’s assets and develop a clear marketing plan to promote the region as, collectively, the national home for cybersecurity.

But has a catchy moniker emerged from these expensive branding efforts? No.

Now, there was one noble attempt in the past: the groan-worthy “Silicon Hill.” But besides the fact that hills are just ugly and unexciting—the scene in Boulder, Colorado gets to be a whole Silicon Mountain—it implies that all of the important action in the D.C. scene stems from Capital Hill, when most of the cyber-bustle is happening across city lines in Maryland and Virginia, two states that can’t stop bickering over which one is better for cybersecurity startups (spoiler: it’s Virginia). You could make the case that government contracts and proximity to legislators is part of why Booz Allen, Lockheed and the bunch are in the neighborhood to begin with, but then it’d more apt to call the scene Silicon Lobby.

Besides, Austin, Texas is called Silicon Hills (plural), and given that Austin is gunning for the cybersecurity throne, picking a similar name just won’t do. Silicon Swamp could be apt, but that one belongs to Gainesville, Florida, because hosting the headquarters of Grooveshark is enough to justify a scene, apparently.

So what’s left, then? Pentagon Valley? Silicon Fortress? We asked Rick Gordon, who runs cybersecurity accelerator Mach37, if he’d heard anything about a worthy moniker.

“About a year ago, I tried to coin a name for the corridor between Dulles and Columbia as the ‘Cyber Beltway,'” Mr. Gordon told us over email. “Caught a rash of @&/! from my buddies and it never stuck.”

Maybe D.C. doesn’t need nickname. After all, Massachusetts and its health-tech centers is often neck-and-neck with NYC in VC investment, and no one is trying to call Boston ‘Silicon Lab’ or ‘Silicon Hellhole’ or ‘Silicon Inferiority-Complex’—sorry, is my NYC showing?

Besides, the “Silicon” name is an eroded brand anyway. “Silicon Valley” has just become a short-hand of VC boosterism, sexist corporate culture, useless apps and empty business plans. Maybe Washington D.C., with its miserable summers, much-too-spacious public transit, self-celebration, racist team names and overwhelmingly boring—but, again, preternaturally talented—journalists, doesn’t need any branding help from tech’s terrible cultural legacy.