At #Failfest, entrepreneurs talk pros, cons of learning the hard way - Baltimore


Sep. 18, 2014 8:01 am

At #Failfest, entrepreneurs talk pros, cons of learning the hard way

Baltimore Innovation Week's #Failfest was held Tuesday. Entrepreneurs shared tales of bad domain names, miserable pitches and 100,000 leftover socks.

McKeever Conwell talks during Tuesday's #Failfest.

(Photo by Tyler Waldman)

Disclosure: is the title sponsor and organizer of Baltimore Innovation Week.

You have to learn to crawl before you walk. You have to learn to walk before you run. And if you’re a founder trying to get a startup up and running, you have to fall on your face at least once or twice before you know what’s what.

That was the takeaway at #Failfest: A Conversation In Failure, held Tuesday at the Emerging Technology Centers’ Haven Street incubator as part of Baltimore Innovation Week.

Three entrepreneurs and an author, plus ETC Executive Director Deb Tillett, shared their stories of the nine times they were all knocked down before they each got up.


Krzysztof Sitko once began a DreamIt Health demo day presentation for Aegle with a shockingly honest opener.

“We’re Aegle and here’s how we failed throughout DreamIt Health,” he recalled saying.

The company was formed in pursuit of the Qualcomm Tricorder XPRIZE, which tasked competitors with building a real-life version of the “Star Trek” tricorder — the futuristic gadget that can diagnose any illness. Incidentally, a fellow team from Johns Hopkins University recently made it to the competition’s finals.

“It was my responsibility to present for demo day, I was looking for basically anywhere and everywhere and I was driving myself crazy,” Sitko said Tuesday. “And by demo day, we don’t have a solution.”

They didn’t have an investor, either. In the end, the company pivoted to wearable health monitoring, sort of the next level of Life Alert and other products advertised in daytime ads.

“What if grandma or grandpa can’t or won’t press that button?” Sitko asked.



McKeever Conwell’s last venture,, never got off to a good start. At 24, the social gifting company was founded with (by Conwell’s own admission) the unwieldy name

“It was a horrible name and it only got worse,” Conwell said.

The company got some traction late, even striking a deal with Disney to use their social buying technology. Then his programmer left.

But Conwell has no regrets. He said he learned about email marketing and cold calling from founding the company as a young buck.

“Failure sucks and I want people to stop saying ‘fail fast,'” he said. “No, you want to make mistakes fast. I’m comfortable taking that risk. I’m stupid enough to do it again.”

But the risks didn’t come without costs.

“My engagement fell through because my business was my wife,” Conwell said.

He’s now in the Philadelphia accelerator DreamIt Access working on his next startup, the social buying platform RedBerrry.


While the ETC’s Tillett now spends her days helping grow startups, she’s no stranger to failure herself. In the early days of ecommerce, she launched a company called, offering socks with cut-off toes to keep women’s feet warm during pedicures.

“I list my cell phone number … boom, forget all about it,” she said. Months later, “my cell phone rings, it’s a salon in Philadelphia, the Ritz, they want to order 10 dozen pairs.”

She claimed to be sold out and that it would take a few weeks. She asked around and got 500 pairs from a New Hampshire vendor, sold through all of them and then went to a Chinese manufacturer. The minimum order was 75,000 pairs.

“A thousand years later, 50,000 [freaking] pairs still in the warehouse,” she said, waving around one of the pairs, jokingly offering it for sale.

Already a member? Sign in here


PGDx signs a pair of partnerships as it looks to expand ‘kitted’ cancer tests

JHU spinout WindMIL Therapeutics expands to Philly, adds two new executives

emocha partners with University of Maryland Health Partners to help Type 2 diabetes patients in Baltimore



Why a modern office matters for Asymmetrik’s growing culture

Baltimore, MD 21201

14 West

Business Analyst

Apply Now
Baltimore, MD 21201

14 West

Solutions Specialist

Apply Now
Baltimore, MD



Apply Now

TEDCO’s Builder Fund is closing the investment gap for more entrepreneurs

JHU startup PathoVax raises $2.75M, grows team

How the BioTechnical Institute of Maryland prepares Baltimore residents to work at local labs



SmartLogic propels digital transformation aboard Baltimore Water Taxi

Baltimore, MD 21201

Agora Financial, an Agora Company

Front End Web Developer

Apply Now
Baltimore, MD 21201

Agora Financial

Email Deliverability Specialist

Apply Now
Annapolis Junction, MD



Apply Now

Sign-up for daily news updates from Baltimore

Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!