'Risk' is the missing element in Baltimore's startup scene [VIDEO] - Technical.ly Baltimore

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Apr. 10, 2013 11:30 am

‘Risk’ is the missing element in Baltimore’s startup scene [VIDEO]

Baltimore's entrepreneurs will continue to try, fail and try again. But how much money are we willing to lose?
In the startup world, you have to be willing to burn some cash. (Not literally, of course.)

In the startup world, you have to be willing to burn some cash. (Not literally, of course.)

Remember the words of Yoda from “The Empire Strikes Back:” Do. Or do not. There is no try.

In the startup world, that maxim comes slightly altered: Try. Fail. Try Again. Possibly fail again. But keep on trying.

And, whatever you do, don’t create anything like the cinematic firebomb that were “Star Wars” episodes one through three, complete with Jar Jar Binks, the character that eviscerated your faith in the redeeming qualities of extraterrestrial life anywhere.

Risk, in other words, is the quality that is obvious yet sorely necessary for founders and investors alike. But as Vince Talbert and Tom Kuegler pointed out at January’s Startup Grind, risk ain’t Baltimore’s bag, baby.

Kuegler, a Baltimore native and founding partner of Silicon Valley-based venture capital firm Wasabi Ventures, said the “personal risk ratio” of people in the Baltimore region generally isn’t high enough for tech workers to “give up guaranteed money” at a standard nine-to-five job and pursue a tech startup.

While Kuegler appeared incredulous about the people who comprise the class of startup founders and owners, Talbert, however, was unsure of this region’s venture capitalists. The Bill Me Later cofounder said that if he could change one thing about the Baltimore region, it would be the level of risk venture firms are willing to take on.

“I’m willing to lose a little bit of money to build the ecosystem,” he said.

The question, of course, is how many other local venture capitalists feel the same way.

As Technically Baltimore has previously argued, Baltimore isn’t a tech startup hub. At least, it’s no hub in the way that Silicon Valley is, which is OK. It’s the position of this publication that there’s no percentage in endless comparisons between Silicon Valley and other cities with nascent or burgeoning startup scenes.

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Although, taking cues from Silicon Valley ought to be encouraged.

In an interview with Gigaom in 2011, serial entrepreneur Steve Blank — and the founder of E.piphany in 1996 — described the salient characteristic of the Valley:

“You know what we call a failed entrepreneur in Silicon Valley? Experienced. No where else in the world do we say that.”

Watch Steve Blank talk about risk in Silicon Valley:

Baltimore is gritty, and scrappy, and tech certainly has a foothold in the city, but are there people with money willing to bet on people with startup ideas who have already launched several failed companies?

That’s not to say that this city is bereft of money for startups.

Angel and venture investors like the Baltimore Angels, Wasabi Ventures, private funders and now TEDCO (via Propel Baltimore) have consciously planted a collective flag here, by either actively courting Baltimore-based startups or conditioning investments: we have money for you, Startup Company, but we want you in Baltimore.

What remains to be seen is the corollary to an increase in capital available — an increase in the amount of risk investors are willing to stomach, another layer needed in this city’s startup ecosystem.

Entrepreneurs here will continue to try, fail, try again, possibly fail again, and keep on trying.

But how much money are we willing to lose?

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