Mike Brenner, a longtime leader of Baltimore’s tech community who helped start two of the city’s top coworking spaces, is moving to Portland, Oregon.
Brenner expects to move this week, and has taken a new job at a Portland health-tech company. He also just got married.
Brenner, a native of Salisbury, ended his tenure as CEO of Betamore in December 2014. Along with Greg Cangialosi and Sean Lane, Brenner founded the Federal Hill campus that became a startup and entrepreneurship hub for the city. Brenner also returned to his web development roots, building a new site to connect the area’s tech ecosystem, BaltimoreTech.org.
Prior to founding Betamore, Brenner teamed up with Dave Troy and Mike Subelsky to found the Beehive Baltimore coworking space within the Emerging Technology Centers in 2008. He also helped to start the regular meetup, Refresh Baltimore.
He is a familiar connector for those new and old to Baltimore tech. (In 2011, he even reached out to help bring Technical.ly to Baltimore, making early introductions around our launch in 2012.)
Along the way, Brenner was often one of the most visible faces of Baltimore’s tech community, appearing in numerous profiles and frequently leading efforts aimed at knitting the different parts of the tech community together.
We caught up with Brenner via email to ask him about his next adventure.
Why are you moving?
Heather [Mills] and I have lived in Maryland our whole lives and have always wanted to try living somewhere else, even if just for a few years. We both love the outdoors and Oregon is a beautiful backyard for people that like the activities we do. Portland also has a nice tech/innovation scene and house companies like Simple, Urban Airship, New Relic, Treehouse and, of course, Nike.
"When I arrived in Baltimore in 2007, the tech community was very isolated and even within its isolation, there was fragmentation."
I had already planned to start another business but tabled the idea after I was introduced to the CEO of an incredibly fast-growing health-tech company called Zoom+ (née ZoomCare). If Apple was to move into the healthcare space, I imagine Zoom+ would be what it would look like. They raised a significant amount of capital at the end of last year and are scaling new products and services and I was hired to help build some of those products.
I’ve never been part of a company that I didn’t start, which I’ve always considered to be a handicap, so I’m really looking forward to learning as much as I can from this experience. The company is just loaded with talent, so while I can’t wait to begin doing what I love to do and build products, I also can’t wait to be an absolute sponge.
Being a leader of the Baltimore tech scene who was involved in building some of the institutions that are anchors of the community today, where do you see the community as you’re leaving it vs. where it was when you arrived?
When I arrived in Baltimore in 2007, the tech community was very isolated and even within its isolation, there was fragmentation. Today, the tech community has participants in almost every industry and has a healthy amount of resources to enter-in new participants. Our tech community has also built up a national presence that is effectively attracting companies and talent. The startup community specifically is also converting talented leaders in non-tech industries to start companies, and the resources that many of us have put in place to assist those new companies are working.
"The tech community needs to do more to help with the many challenges that face our city."
I don’t think this would be possible today unless we had the strong mentor/advisor/investor networks that we have. Nor would it be possible if we didn’t have the physical places for these activities to take place, like Betamore, ETC, and others. We most certainly wouldn’t be where we are today if we weren’t talking about ourselves and sharing our success to the outside world through publications and events like the ones created by Technical.ly, BBJ, citybizlist and of course our healthy regiment of local meetups like Startup Soiree and B’more on Rails.
What do you think Baltimore’s tech community needs going forward?
I think Baltimore’s tech community is growing nicely, and that growth should continue to be maintained. Seriously, someone should be hired full-time to focus on our tech community’s growth.
I also think the tech community needs to do more to help with the many challenges that face our city. It would be great to see more leaders taking tech into the inner city and doing projects like Digital Harbor Foundation’s Rec2Tech, or providing Betamore Academy to our high school graduates that might not want or can afford to go to a four-year liberal arts college.
I’m very eager to see how Kevin Plank finds his role outside of Under Armour in Baltimore and the tech community in particular. I’ve often called him a modern day Bruce Wayne and I think he can be responsible for attracting a lot of young startups to our city.
Do you have a favorite memory from your time here?
One of my favorite memories was when I walked into Digital Harbor High School for the first time to begin planning Education Hack Day and bumped into a history teacher named Andrew Coy.
He was also the school’s resident IT guy since they didn’t have someone based in the school to do that. He had big ideas for improving his school and all were related to tech. I asked him to help me plan the Hack Day and he was more than eager to help out. Once the weekend came, it was amazing to see his eyes open to the world of coders, startups, teachers, and successful entrepreneurs that now flooded his cafeteria in hopes of launching an edtech high startup in one weekend.
On the last day of the event, I introduced Andrew to Sean Lane who had a youth-focused tech foundation that needed a mission. Andrew gave him that mission and Sean made him the executive director. The rest is history and Andrew is now running one of the most promising foundations in the country for getting kids and schools interested in non-corporate tech, using Baltimore as his petri dish.
Do you plan to still be involved in any efforts in Baltimore?
While I don’t have any formal involvements with any organization in particular, I’m closely aligned with the efforts of the Digital Harbor Foundation, Refresh Baltimore, Impact Hub and Betamore in particular.
When I stepped down from Betamore in January, I had planned to be more involved in our organization moving forward but our new leadership decided they didn’t want that. That was a blow for me and one that ultimately helped push me to look at my personal life and take the jump to the mountain city that had always been in my dreams. Looking back, I’m thankful for that.
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