In late September, a dozen tech entrepreneurs and startup leaders in Baltimore were brought together to talk about bringing the local technology community into the broader business community.
Organized by Tom Loveland, the CEO and founder of Bethesda-based IT strategy firm Mind Over Machines, to introduce these leaders to Donald Fry, the president of the half-century old Greater Baltimore Committee (and former Maryland state Senator), the resulting conversation ended with a tricky question: what needs to be included in any longterm “digital roadmap” for Baltimore?
Held around a conference table inside BTS Software in Locust Point after appetizers and beer, Mike Brenner, the outspoken Betamore cofounder who, full disclosure, is partner in this news site, suggested as the event ended to point the question online for a broader response.
One community leader who was unable to make that initial event, Dave Troy, co-founder of Canton-based 410 Labs, dove headfirst into the discussion in a Quora post, with a sobering observation to boot: “In many important ways, we are now underperforming [when compared to] our peers around the world.”
Troy writes that forming any sort of digital roadmap for Baltimore faces several impediments:
- There’s a reason it’s called Smalltimore: The most recent Census figures have shown that Baltimore’s overall population has decreased in the first decade of the 21st century. A contributing factor? Suburban sprawl, and its effect on turning the surrounding counties into, essentially, suburbs of Baltimore’s bigger cousin, Washington, D.C. This is something taken up by author and University of Delaware professor McKay Jenkins in his examination of the state’s PlanMaryland document.
- A lack of leadership, says Troy: “Baltimore’s civic and governmental leaders have made little to no effort to establish the city on the world stage from a tech entrepreneurship perspective, and there are too few internal entrepreneur champions working on developing the community. Baltimore gets by only in spite of itself.”
- A lack of “global perspective.” Troy says Baltimore is “[under]performing all but the most hopeless of places.”
- And a collective failure to “cultivate and promote new leaders.” Writes Troy: “We need to stop recycling the same people and ideas. Another interview with Brenner, Subelsky, Troy, Hardebeck, Hazlett, Cangialosi, Fowler, etc, is not going to move us forward. We need more channels for developing leaders and more people who are willing to put aside their own agendas and egos in favor of others.'”
Discussion continued on the Baltimore Tech Facebook group. TechBreakfast organizer Ron Schmelzer implored entrepreneurs to “Get things done. Keep investing. Don’t leave once you’re a success. Support other entrepreneurs.”
Others played Devil’s Advocate, wondering why Baltimore city should act as the center of Maryland’s economy, and noting that for all Silicon Valley’s success, the area on the West Coast is, really, one giant suburb.
Troy, however, is bullish about the role of this city, and says “a densely populated, thriving, car-free digital Baltimore should be at the heart of any 21st century vision for Maryland.”