The Maryland Entrepreneur Expo returns for a second year Nov. 13, an event that Rob Rosenbaum, president and executive director of sponsoring organization TEDCO, thinks is distinct from other networking events in the state.
“All of the programming is … solely focused on adding value to entrepreneurs,” he said. “We’re trying to … let entrepreneurs know this is a place where they can come and get support.”
Maryland’s Technology Development Corporation—TEDCO for short—has been doing as much for 14 years, taking taxpayer dollars and pumping it directly into early-stage startups in the state as a means to drive economic development. Rosenbaum, who began his tenure as president in fall 2010, says TEDCO boasts an 86 percent “survival rate” among the companies it has handed money to. Among those companies: Woofound, Vii Network and AccelerateBaltimore company Unbound Concepts.
A native of Connecticut, and a graduate of both the Georgia Institute of Technology and Columbia University, Rosenbaum arrived in Maryland at the end of the dot-com bubble. He lives in Baltimore County.
Technically Baltimore spoke with Rosenbaum about Tuesday’s expo and what he plans to leave behind at TEDCO.
TB: Silicon Valley. Boston. New York City. … Maryland. How do we shake the perception that Maryland isn’t exactly the place to found a startup?
RR: The biggest way to shake the perception is to lead by example. I think that’s what’s going on—other entrepreneurs [are] starting to give back in this virtuous cycle, and getting other folks interested in the community, [and] adding new elements to the community. I think that people fundamentally will follow a leader and we have some leaders and community supporters showing that this region is viable and it’s drawing the rest of the folks out of the woodwork.
TB: Is that going to be something of TEDCO’s legacy? Maybe a decade out from now, what do you want to know the organization has accomplished?
RR: I would hope that TEDCO leaves two things, or maintains two things. Number one is to be the leading source for early-stage, very high-risk capital in the entrepreneurial community. And two, to be seen as an advocate and supporter of the entrepreneurial community and the other folks in the community that are supporting the community. We want to support the entrepreneurs, and we want to support our peer organizations that are supporting entrepreneurs.
TB: TEDCO places bets on startups with taxpayer dollars. How do you determine a company is a good bet?
RR: TEDCO does a pretty good job of figuring out who has a good business idea, and then helping support them through the maturation of that business. If you look at the 190 or so companies that we’ve done seed investments in over the last 10 years, 86 percent of them are still in business today.
Technology for technology’s sake is nothing that anybody will invest in and nothing that an entrepreneur will ever be able to make a living on. So, we are always, throughout all of our funding programs, always asking: who’s the customer? What’s the go-to-market strategy? Will they pay you enough to cover your costs? So that’s something we start talking about from day one and never lose sight of.
TB: Why did you take the position as president of TEDCO?
RR: My passion in business is to build upon a foundation and help a business grow. And the opportunity was presented to me to help TEDCO grow beyond just being a state-funded seed investor. We have a strategy that we’re putting together to bring private capital to the organization and to begin to make investments larger than our traditional $75,000 investments, and I saw that as a great challenge and an opportunity to actually create a triple bottom line. Number one: improve TEDCO. Number two: improve the entrepreneurial ecosystem. Number three, assuming success, provide satisfaction for myself.
TB: Private capital? What’s the sell to private investors?
RR: You look at the core competency of TEDCO, and one of the simplest ways to describe [it] is we are very good at evaluating early-stage technologies and early-stage entrepreneurs and knowing which ones to pick and which ones to coach before they can be funded. So the sell to private capital is we’ve got a 14-year history of doing that, we’ve got an 86 percent survival rate of our companies. We can take that to the next step and help you as a private investor make money based upon those core skills that we have demonstrated.
TB: Any worry that you invest in a company, and it’s doing well, and it ends up leaving the state?
RR: There’s always worry, and the best way we can encourage companies to stay in the state is to continue to make this an environment where they can thrive. But if a company is extraordinarily successful and they have to leave the state for one reason or another, so be it. They will be successful, but they will always remember that they got their start and their seed money from TEDCO … and hopefully one day when they’re ready to give back, [they’ll] give back to the state.