Relatively speaking, Baltimore’s early-stage technology community has been busy in 2012. Call it hype. Call it cheerleading. Call it noise. But whatever the name, it’s plain that Baltimore city’s tech ecosystem is growing at a clip previously unseen.
Admittedly, there’s progress yet to be made, as Baltimore searches for its identity among other tech startup cities in the U.S.
But as we bid farewell to 2012, Technically Baltimore takes a look back on some of the pivotal developments within this city’s tech community in 2012. (And we do mean some. In no way have we established a comprehensive list here, and we encourage people to make additions to this list via our Twitter feed, our Facebook page and in the comments below.)
We should add: this is not ordered according to our arbitrary judgment of relative importance. It’s more of a jumble. A Jackson Pollock of tech, if you will. Salut.
- Millennial Media’s IPO: A big win for Baltimore’s tech scene in a city that “needs wins,” as venture capitalist Frank Bonsal said at December’s Startup Grind. In March the global mobile advertising company’s initial public offering was valued at $1.8 billion. While revenue growth has had a hard time keeping up with growing expenses, nonetheless, Millennial’s revenues have skyrocketed since its IPO. The next trick? Making sure Millennial hangs around town.
- Data, Data, Data: As Sherlock Holmes says, you cannot make bricks without clay. And while this city’s OpenBaltimore data site has its kinks, it was recently recognized by the Atlantic Cities as a “best open data release” of the year. An upgrade in October now allows shape and KMZ files to be viewed as maps. The data there has already produced some interesting visualizations, including this one showing vacant housing in Baltimore. Progress can still be made—adding more datasets, cleaning up the interface—and, assuredly, a next step should be putting the information to some type of use.
- AccelerateBaltimore: The homegrown accelerator presented its first class of four startups in July (with Given.to, rebranded from NoBadGift.com, among them). Participating startups received $25,000 in seed funding as well as office space at the Emerging Technology Center in Canton. Six startups will join the accelerator in 2013. A bit troubling was the number of times the application deadline for startups was pushed back, but more than 120 startups applied. Semi-finalists will be announced Jan. 7.
- New look for gb.tc: Since taking charge of the Greater Baltimore Technology Council one year ago, Jason Hardebeck and crew have guided the organization through heady change, scrapping membership dues, rebranding as gb.tc and hosting the annual Tech Night this year at Lexington Market (and charging a fraction of the cost of Tech Nights previous.) Perhaps the biggest change has been its emphasis on making “stuff that matters:” building startups that not only have paying customers, but tackle real-world problems.
- Inaugural Civic Apps Competition: In November, the Mayor’s Office of Information Technology posted a bounty: 10 grand to the techie/hacker-citizen who creates a civic app, something that can make government better, faster, stronger, or more like Daft Punk. This is something Code for America does in cities nationwide, and while the city’s effort is an independent one, the goal is similar for this inaugural competition—put stuff like OpenBaltimore data to practical use.
- Chris Tonjes named city CIO: Rico Singleton’s less than glorious exit from his post gave those in the tech community ample reason to demur about this city’s commitment to digital growth. But since taking the reins of the Mayor’s Office of Information Technology in July, Tonjes has been among the techies, judging at Startup Weekend events, popping up at Tech Night and being rather forthright about this city’s obsolete data centers while speaking at TechBreakfast. The daily work is rather unglamorous—he’s been tossed into this mess regarding the city’s new VoIP contract—but Tonjes assured Technically Baltimore he would bring a “startup mentality” to city government. Here’s to 2013 being a year of action.
- TechBreakfast: What started out as a group of people sitting around a table inside a conference room at the Emerging Technology Center has grown into a Meetup group boasting more than 1,500 members and a monthly event with locations in Baltimore, Columbia and Washington, D.C. TechBreakfast is now a regular showcase for new startups eager to show off their apps and products—and, perhaps, receive some unfiltered criticism.
- Parking Panda expands: Winners of the inaugural Baltimore Startup Weekend in April 2011, this team is likely one of the better known startup spin-outs of the nascent civic technology community here, so their trajectory could be a nicely symbolic one. The gents behind Parking Panda have steadily grown their online parking reservation service. This year the Panda has established partnerships with parking garages in Baltimore city, expanding its offerings from just peer-to-peer driveway reservations, and was the official parking service of the Baltimore Grand Prix. Now Parking Panda is available in Washington, D.C., and San Francisco, with Philadelphia on the way.
- Baltimore loves EdTech: “No region is better positioned for the launch of a new EdTech company.” A bold pronouncement, surely, from the Economic Alliance of Greater Baltimore, but it’s not empty testimony. The Digital Harbor Foundation, new to the city this year, is revamping education citywide by using technology to find students paying work, instead of just tossing shiny objects in classrooms. Moodlerooms (merged with Blackboard in 2012) and Laureate Education (formerly Sylvan Learning) are based here, among other education technology companies. And with plenty of opportunity to improve a creaky public school system, Baltimore—for better or worse—is fertile ground to test new approaches to learning.
- Geeks on a Train: Twice this year gb.tc has joined Baltimore techies interested in seeing first-hand what tech communities in other cities are doing. gb.tc organized the first, in May, which traveled from Washington, D.C., to Boston. Then Technically Baltimore partnered with gb.tc on the second, in November, to bring a smaller trip to Philadelphia to join our Technically Philly friends, who organized a day in the City of Brotherly Love. No word yet on a cruise of the Caribbean.
- Pitch Across Maryland: Speaking of tech-fueled treks … More than 168 different startups boarded the Pitch Across Maryland bus, a competition on wheels that traversed the state for 18 days in September providing eager founders a mobile platform from which to record short pitches about their startup companies and business ideas. At competition’s end, eight finalists emerged, with the winner and runner-up crowned at November’s Entrepreneur Expo. Governor Martin O’Malley also boarded the bus, “pitching” Maryland as a “hotbed of innovation” and the place for entrepreneurs to set up camp while they build their businesses.
- InvestMaryland Challenge: The state’s inaugural business plan competition will award three, $100,000 grants to startup companies in spring 2013, but the competition is just one component of the broader InvestMaryland initiative. Sales of tax credits to insurance companies in the spring raised a pool of $84 million to be distributed among early- to late-stage startup companies in state by venture firms and the Maryland Venture Fund, as well as the Equity Participant Investment Program. It’s a push for more economic development in the state—presumably a result of successful companies forming, and then remaining, in Maryland.
- Betamore, the “urban campus,” opens: Technically Baltimore’s lead reporter works from this coworking space, on occasion, and co-founder Mike Brenner is a partner with this site. There. It’s brand new, having opened earlier this month, so it seems too soon to make any bold prediction about its success or failure. But Betamore represents an experiment of a coworking facility, one that combines incubation of software startups (but for no more than 18 months), technology classes (front-end development, for example) open to city residents and community building, the essence of a good coworking space—a consistent group of people to be around, versus an arbitrary location to plug in your laptop for eight hours.
- Coverage of The Tech Scene: Let’s take a moment to salute former Baltimore Sun reporter Gus Sentementes, who covered the burgeoning tech community in this city for three years before leaving the Home of Mencken in November. Kudos to the Baltimore Business Journal, CityBizList and BmoreMedia for the work they’ve been doing, and continue to do, to report on tech and its relation to the broader business community in the Baltimore region, which might not be a tech startup hub, but is certainly nothing to sneeze at either. And, if we can play Narcissus for a minute: we at Technically Baltimore are doing our best to report on the tech scene and tie many of these sometimes “siloed” elements—cybersecurity, entrepreneurship, biotech, education technology, digital access, civic data—together into a coherent whole.
- Baltimore Innovation Week: Pure self-aggrandizement, but Baltimore Innovation Week is Technically Baltimore’s (humble) attempt to place innovation, entrepreneurship and technology in this city and the greater region in the limelight for one week each year. We hosted our first BIW in September, with more than 30 events, close to 30 partners and more than 1,500 attendees. The point? To bring those “siloed” communities many of us reference into a single conversation. We’re planning next year, and we’d love your help. E-mail us at INFO at TECHNICALLYBALTIMORE dot COM.