RealLIST Connectors 2023: Meet 20 (more) people to know in DC’s tech and startup scene

RealLIST Connectors 2023: Meet 20 (more) people to know in DC’s tech and startup scene

In our fourth annual edition, we pulled together the cream of the crop when it comes to networking, mentoring and fostering connections.

By Michaela Atlhouse

If they’ve done their job correctly, the people on this list don’t need an introduction.

Another year has gone by at, which means it’s time for our annual RealLIST Connectors list, honoring the folks who build up the web in DC. You know, the people who just kind of know who doesn’t know each other, but should. So, while we’re writing this under the guise of introducing some folks to you, you probably already know a few of them. If you don’t, no worries — that’s what we’re here for.

This is our fourth year compiling the who’s who of connections in DC and all in all, we’ve dubbed 111 people in the DMV our RealLIST Connectors over the years. You can familiarize yourself with this scene even more by checking out those we highlighted in 20222021 and 2020. While you might think that we’d start to run out of people, it never ceases to amaze me how many folks we can find. There are tons of awesome locals out there, dedicating themselves to building bridges, advocating, mentoring and generally growing the ecosystem.

This year, we’ve got 20 (technically 23, but you’ll understand why we said 20 soon) people to add to that connection pool, and we think they’re a pretty great crowd. This list was put together from our previous reporting, some good old-fashioned internet snooping and community (that’s you) suggestions of folks you thought deserved a shoutout.

Going forward, we always look for standout people to spotlight on our ReaLISTS. If you or someone you know deserves to be here, you can submit a nomination all year round.

Without further ado, meet the 20 people who are linking up the local tech and entrepreneurial scene.

Zvi Band, founder, Camp Social

It’s hard to pin down just one title for Band, who’s currently building the digital social platform Camp Social, business coaching program GoodSphere and Relateable, a platform to help professionals maintain the relationships they’ve created. He’s also the co-creator of the DC Tech Meetup, an author, a speaker and the founder of Contractually, which was acquired by Compass. If you’re wondering how to build up your own network, he also writes The Sphere, a weekly newsletter on networking and connections.

Kiel Chesley, Katie McKenzie and Kaitlin Moran, organizers, DC Tech Meetup

Alongside former RealLIST Connector Kevin Morgan, these three constitute the team rebooting the DC Tech Meetup, once the largest tech meetup in the world. Chesley (NJ3Q), McKenzie (ThinkNimble) and Moran (Logicboost Labs) have spent the better part of a year rebuilding the organization, in partnership with the DC Tech & Venture Coalition. Over the next year and a half, they’re planning to bring the events back to 1,000+ attendees.

Anne Choi, business systems analyst, CapTech

Outside of her daily role at CapTech, Choi is the program co-director for the Mayland chapter of Urban Rural Action, which works to bridge gaps in society and create conversations and engagement among urban, suburban and rural residents. This year, she and her team created the Uniting for Entrepreneurship in Maryland program, where entrepreneurs develop a project to solve a problem in the state’s immigrant community. She’s also a leader of CapTech’s Asian Employee Resource Group, through which she works to create a better workplace.

Judy Costello, special projects manager, Montgomery County

Costello has worked in several positions with local government, helping out in both business and economic development. This year, she’s part of the team that created the Cybersecurity Connections Initiative, but you might know her from previous roles with the BioMaryland Center, BioHealth Innovation, Business Alliance for Innovation and Entrepreneurship and more.

Katie Cristol, CEO, Tysons Community Alliance

As of next month, Cristol will be the first permanent CEO of the Tysons Community Alliance. But she’s been a familiar face in Arlington and Northern Virginia business development long before that. She was also the chair of the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission and a member of the Arlington County Board, co-chaired with Arlington’s Project PEACE, as well as an advocate for reproductive health and sexual assault survivor support. At the community alliance, she’s looking to establish a community improvement district, release a strategic plan, conduct market research and work on placemaking activation.

Dahna Goldstein, chief investment officer, Halcyon

At Halcyon, Goldstein is key for getting funding in the hands of local entrepreneurs and helping them along the way. She took over in 2021 following Ryan Ross’ departure and is passionate about supporting startups and evolving the startup ecosystem, according to her boss Kate Goodall. On the day-to-day, she’s always open to offering advice and finding new ways to improve access to capital.

Betty Hines, founder and CEO, Women Elevating Women

Hines is the founder of Women Elevating Women, a conference for women executives and entrepreneurs to network, gain support and meet others on the scene. In her spare time, she’s also the director of the board of the Women Presidents Organization, an advocate and a mentor. She works with organizations including the Women Business Collaborative, The Black Experience and more. In May, the DC Chamber of Commerce named Hines the 2023 Women in Business Champion.

Michael O’Brien, managing partner, MOB Advocacy

O’Brien created MOB Advocacy to help startups in the advocacy realm find a seat at the policy-making table. According to his nominator, O’Brien helped mentor a startup through the SEED SPOT accelerator, led a program with federal and state governments working with Ukrainian entrepreneurs, connected startups to the team for Maryland’s new governor and more, all pro-bono. He was also accepted into the Founders Institute Accelerator Accelerator program and is hoping to launch a new accelerator for startups in regulated spaces.

“His calendar is always open to startups, and he gladly connects with them and connects them to the elected officials, regulators, investors, incubators and other leaders, whether they are clients or not,” his nominator wrote.

Chrystina Nguyen, business development lead, Rhythmic Technologies

On top of her daily role at Rhythmic, Nguyen is also the face behind several local meetups, including DevOpsDC, AWS Community Day, AWS Cloud Security and Capital Business Development Association. When groups started to slip during the pandemic, she took over a number and kept them alive during the move to virtual events and back again. She often spends at least three hours after 5 p.m. finding event sponsors, setting up speakers and generally organizing meetup events.

Jen Pengelly, software development capability lead, Excella

Outside of her 9-5, Pengelly is also an organizer for local meetups, including NoVa Code and Coffee and Tech Talk DC. She’s also worked with organizations such as Ruby for Good. Her advice for meeting new people and making connections:

“If there is something in-person and you’re comfortable with it, I say: Definitely go; the easiest way to meet people is to meet people,” Pengelly told earlier this year. “It sounds ridiculous but it’s true. Just be out there, put yourself out there and try to be there.”

Gerren Price, president and CEO, Downtown DC Business Improvement District

Price got the CEO gig in August of last year, but he first joined the BID back in 2018 as the director of public space operations. In the time since, he’s led the redevelopment of Franklin Park and helped support business leaders with emergency food, shelter and funds during the pandemic. This year, he’s a key force in redeveloping downtown DC, as officials work to support existing businesses, bring in new ones and figure out office-to-residential conversions.

Monica Ray, president, Congress Heights Community Training and Development Corporation

By the time she steps down in August, Ray will have led the Development Corporation in Congress Heights for nearly two decades (according to the Washington Informer, her budget started at $500,000 in 1994 and grew to $10 million). As of last week, she also became the manager for the Retail Village at Sycamore & Oak, a business space and incubator supporting entrepreneurs from Wards 7 and 8.

Jeff Reid, founding director, Georgetown University Entrepreneurship Initiative

At Georgetown, Reid helped create the school’s entrepreneurship initiative by building a curriculum, advising students and fostering connections with local industry reps and prominent alumni. He’s also been an advisor for entities including the Venture Capital Investment Competition, Global Consortium of Entrepreneurship Centers and the CNBC Disruptor 50. In addition, he’s a professor of the practice at Georgetown, imparting his knowledge to the next generation of prospective DMV entrepreneurs.

Debbie Sallis, executive director, The Cyber Guild

In addition to her work with The Cyber Guild, Sallis is the founder of Coaching Conversations, which helps local leaders with company engagement. Her nominator described her as a “super-connector” who is passionate about bringing diversity to the cyber sector.

“She excels at helping draw lines between folks and encouraging collaboration,” her nominator wrote. “Her investment in building community through her work with the Cyber Guild and building partnerships in the space make her the perfect candidate for [the RealLIST].”

Jasmine Smith, cofounder, Open Door Concept

When she’s not working in comms for the White House with the US Digital Service, Smith is the cofounder of Open Door Concept, a new “uncoworking space” in DC. The collaborative facility in the Northeast hosts twice-a-month “sprint days” for local remote workers, which consist of 52-minute work sessions followed by short breaks, with the goal of getting work done and making community connections.

Michael Stern, founder and CEO, Headstart

Stern founded Headstart in 2021, a PR and strategy agency for startups that helps out founders in local accelerators and colleges. Stern himself is a mentor for students from the University of Maryland and Georgetown University as well as Halcyon, Bethesda Green, 757 Ventures and Techstars. He’s also leading Headstart’s plan to host open coffee hours so entrepreneurs can get advice and resources from prominent local founders.

Ryan Touhill, director of economic development, Arlington County

Before he was the new director in town in Arlington, you likely knew Touhill from the Alexandria Economic Development Partnerships. There, his accomplishments included nothing less than helping out with securing the Amazon HQ2 and Virginia Tech Innovation Campus deals. This year, he’s working on the strategic plan, keeping existing companies in Arlington and bringing new ones into the fold. He’s also worked with Rebuilding Together Alexandria, Alexandria City Public Schools and the Alexandria/Arlington Regional Workforce Council.

Rocio Treminio-Lopez, Latino business liaison, Prince George’s County Economic Development Corporation

As the liaison, Tremino-Lopez is responsible for relationship-building with Latinx business owners in the county. This year, she helped create the county’s first-ever accelerator held entirely in Spanish. Oh yeah, and did we mention she does this on top of her day job as the mayor of Brentwood?

Casey Watts, owner, Happy and Effective

Since moving to the DC area, Watts has organized a number of local groups and meetups, including Empathy in Tech, Baltimore Tech Stack, DC Product and Pastries and a few Code and Coffees. The Maryland resident is also a speaker, workshop developer and active member of online communities like the Baltimore and DC Tech Slacks.

Nick Whitmoyer, founder, Whistle Studios

Alongside his role at Whistle, Whitmoyer is an organizer of Refresh DC, a community of web designers, developers and more looking to up their skills. He was also an organizer for Refresh the Triangle and is on the advisory board for Northern Virginia Community College.