Cool Companies

Cool Companies

Cooking competitions, treadmill desks, unlimited vacation-here are five local companies with great perks

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WeddingWire, Friendship Heights

Cool perks: Game room, free catered breakfast every morning, unlimited vacation and beer-, wine- and bourbon-tasting clubs

Work Hard, Play Hard

WeddingWire founder and CEO Timothy Chi has a simple philosophy about work: “You shouldn’t go to work and feel like it’s any different than the rest of your life.”
That might help explain the open 12-pack of beer sitting next to a pile of paperwork or the heated pingpong battle taking place in the employee café.

Launched in 2007, WeddingWire is a technology company that serves the wedding industry, helping engaged couples find vendors and selling technological tools and software to small businesses in the field.

With brightly painted walls, long tables used as desks (called islands and named after sunny vacation spots such as St. Lucia and Maui), and throngs of stylish twentysomethings, the Friendship Heights headquarters looks more like Silicon Valley than Chevy Chase.

Bailey Johnson was drawn to the company’s “unique vibe” and took a job in account management two years ago. Now her title is “culture and experience manager,” and one of her current projects is to design an office arcade and game room. “Our execs realize that they have to create a fun environment so we can enjoy coming to work every day,” she says.

A program called “Treat Yo’self,” inspired by NBC’s hit comedy Parks and Recreation, gives employees $250 a year to spend on anything they’d like. There are free catered breakfasts every morning, unlimited vacation and “Fireside Chats” once a month, when outside CEOs such as Bob Moul of Artisan and Devin Schain of Campus Direct stop by the office to talk about how to run a business. The company hosts happy hours about three times a week, and beer-, wine- and bourbon-tasting clubs often meet during work hours.

The work hard, play hard culture seems to be paying off: Over the past year, WeddingWire has more than doubled in size, from 150 to 330 employees. Says Chi: “Our employees work harder and smarter when they have fun.”


Novavax, Gaithersburg

Cool perk: Closes early on Fridays for office-wide bowling league

Strike!

At biopharmaceutical company Novavax, many of the 240 employees work behind closed doors in laboratories. The 27-year-old Gaithersburg-based company creates vaccines and vaccine adjuvants to address a broad range of infectious diseases worldwide.

It’s stressful, important work—which is one of the reasons why the company offers perks such as free yoga classes as well as a company-wide bowling league.  

During two 13-week bowling seasons every year, staffers leave the office at noon on Fridays and head to the Bowl America on Clopper Road, which is fully rented out by the company.

Employees bowl on two-person teams, which change every season. Every week, each tandem competes against two other teams.

“At a minimum, you’re meeting four new people every week,” says CEO Stanley Erck. “And that doesn’t count the groups to your left and right.”

In the middle of one of the 2013 bowling seasons, Novavax created a vaccine serum for H7N9, a strain of avian flu, and took it to trials in three months—a quick turnaround by industry standards. “During that time, bowling was a safe haven,” says John Herrmann III, senior vice president and chief counsel. “It was a chance to let off steam.”

To encourage everyone to participate and to level the playing field, Erck says all employees bowl at a handicap. But he does have one rule: “No matter what, no bumpers.”


DMI, Bethesda

Cool perks: Cooking competitions, pet insurance and break rooms with flat-screen TVs, Xbox 360s and free snacks

Cutting Edge

Jerseys signed by stars such as Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III and Washington Wizards guard John Wall cover the walls at DMI, a mobile technology firm headquartered in Bethesda. Sprawling break rooms called “Endzones” on each of the company’s two floors have 55- and 60-inch flat-screen TVs, Xbox 360s and free snacks and sodas. Conference rooms are sports themed, too—small groups might hold a meeting in “Power Play” or “Hall of Fame.”

And the competition theme doesn’t end at sports. The company holds contests to decorate different sections of the office for Halloween, and even hosts an annual cooking contest called “Tech Chef.”

Five teams of four to six people spend a month planning their dishes, then get an hour to prepare them over grills during a workday. A panel of local “celebrity” judges—such as former Range restaurant sous chef Edwin Robles and State Department Chief Technology Officer Bryce Bhatnagar—are brought in to pick the winning team, which gets a 20-inch-tall trophy, office bragging rights and a new grill for each member to take home.

Cassandra Bonnette-Spencer, who was DMI’s first employee 12 years ago (the company now has 700 local employees and 1,800 worldwide), says the point of all the competition is to feel like you’re part of a team: “It’s a fun, friendly competition.”

Founder and CEO Jay Sunny Bajaj is a Maryland native and homegrown Washington sports fan. “People spend more of their awake hours at work than at home,” he says. “You have to create an environment that people enjoy.”

Other perks include pet insurance for all employees—which “a surprising number of people use,” says Erin Brady, an executive assistant—regular raffles for tickets to sports events and concerts, and an annual holiday party that last year featured a conveyor belt delivering shots of tequila around the room.


Casey Health Institute, Gaithersburg

Cool perks: Outdoor meditation labyrinth and studio with free yoga and fitness classes

Mind and Body

Based in Gaithersburg, Casey Health Institute provides integrative medical care by pairing traditional primary care physicians with nutritionists, acupuncturists, chiropractors and mental health professionals. The company emphasizes preventive care and wellness programs for its patients—and it tries hard to practice what it preaches.

An outdoor meditation labyrinth of concentric stone circles is open to employees during lunch or before the workday, and a meditation sanctuary—a room with soundproof walls, armchairs and soft lighting—is open to workers all day.

“I’d rather you take some time for yourself to relax and refocus than space out at your desk and stare at a screen,” says Dr. Ilana Bar-Levav, a co-founder and Casey Health Institute’s chief operating officer.

 The 30-person staff shares a spacious elliptical-shaped office called “The Hub” that was designed to promote collaboration. The administrative office down the hall has only a handful of right angles, and all cubicles are glass-enclosed. “It helps energy flow,” Bar-Levav says.

An upstairs studio offers yoga and fitness classes for patients throughout the day, and similar classes for employees during lunch and before and after work. All staffers can order standing desks if they’d like, and they also have access to a shared treadmill desk.

“I wanted to work at a place that understood their staff is part of their community,” says physician Nicole Farmer, who joined Casey a year ago and runs a food and nutrition demonstration workshop in addition to seeing patients.

The same whiteboard that co-founder and CEO Dr. David Fogel used to pitch the firm to its then-fledgling board of directors is on display in Casey’s administrative offices. ?Fogel leads a full staff meeting every Thursday morning to go over goals for the coming week.

“Fogel and Bar-Levav have worked hard to create a sense of ownership here,” human resources director Kristen Gill says. “That motivates people.”


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