Baltimore’s Startup Ecosystem - Technical.ly Baltimore

Sep. 14, 2010 8:31 am

Baltimore’s Startup Ecosystem

The Baltimore region has been the cradle of several very successful tech companies, but we have the potential to support a much higher level of technology entrepreneurship than we do now. To inspire more people to start companies, we want to celebrate Baltimore's entrepreneurs. To make getting started a little easier, we want to help Baltimore’s startup scene organize itself.
Stormy Baltimore.

Stormy Baltimore.

(Photo by Flickr user sneakerdog, used under a Creative Commons license)

The Baltimore region has been the cradle of several very successful tech companies, but we have the potential to support a much higher level of technology entrepreneurship than we do now. To inspire more people to start companies, we want to celebrate Baltimore’s entrepreneurs. To make getting started a little easier, we want to help Baltimore’s startup scene organize itself. To make this burgeoning ecosystem more visible, this blog aims to document the people, the groups, and the companies building Baltimore’s startup ecosystem.

The Advantages

Baltimore’s biggest advantage for entrepreneurs is simply that it is a city, and one of the few places on the East Coast where risk-takers and bootstrappers can afford to live. While it would be a mistake to waste time mimicking other innovation centers like Silicon Valley, it is worth pondering for a moment how a place like Baltimore could compete with a place like Silicon Valley, as described by the essayist Paul Graham:

For all its power, Silicon Valley has a great weakness: the paradise Shockley found in 1956 is now one giant parking lot. San Francisco and Berkeley are great, but they’re forty miles away. Silicon Valley proper is soul-crushing suburban sprawl. It has fabulous weather, which makes it significantly better than the soul-crushing sprawl of most other American cities. But a competitor that managed to avoid sprawl would have real leverage. All a city needs is to be the kind of place the next traitorous eight look at and say “I want to stay here,” and that would be enough to get the chain reaction started.

Here’s a quick list of other things that make Baltimore a fertile ground for entrepreneurship:

  • Low cost of living
  • Tolerance of misfits and outsiders; strong counterculture
  • Universities
  • Highly-educated population
  • World-class culture, vibrant music and art scenes
  • Dense 19th-century walkable, bike-able core
  • Locate on the Amtrak corridor (easy travel to DC, Boston, New York, and Philadelphia)
  • Journalists who cover local tech companies
  • Tech incubators throughout the state
  • Maryland’s TEDCO venture fund ranked #1 nationally by Entrepreneur Magazine for the largest number of investments in start-up/seed for early stage companies
  • Tons of social activities (pub nights, hackathons, networking socials, Ignite, meetups, roundtables, unconferences, a coworking space, and more)

The Challenges

Why don’t we have more people starting tech companies in Baltimore despite our regional strengths? It’s mostly a “chicken and egg” problem, with a lack of good role models of risk taking and reward, compounded by these factors:

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  • Maryland’s economy is dominated by “Meds, Beds, Eds, and Feds” (Medicine, Hospitality, Education, and Federal Government).
  • Difficult for new tech companies to compete for the best talent with federal contractors that offer comfortable salaries
  • Absent a regional or startup culture, university students are not encouraged to pursue entrepreneurship
  • Business-minded individuals who lack technical skills do not know how to build relationships with potential technical cofounders
  • Few local, highly visible examples of risk and reward for investors and entrepreneurs
  • The home of “The Wire” is perceived as lacking quality-of-life (though this tends to be something people discover as false after they move here)
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