(Photo courtesy of McKeever Conwell)
When other boys were playing with toy trucks, Devin Partlow had a computer. At the time, the cutting edge for kids was a VTech. Though his interests in technology moved to bigger computers and hardware, Partlow remained interested in how tech could be used to help people.
“He always aspired to be on the cutting edge of life,” said his mother, Billie Partlow. “He always wanted to do something to help humanity.”
Building tools and communities were equally important for Partlow, who passed away on May 14 at the age of 31. The cause was related to liver disease, his mother said.
The Morgan State University grad became an entrepreneur at a time when new resources were appearing in Baltimore’s startup community. He was a member of the first AccelerateBaltimore class at the Emerging Technology Centers. He was “all in” as he built his startup, Kithly (also called Hoopla), said ETC President Deb Tillett.
“Baltimore embraced us,” said McKeever Conwell, who participated in the ETC-run accelerator with his own startup that year.
Partlow and Conwell became friends while working on a co-op as computer science majors at Morgan State. Partlow started his career working for the Department of Defense and a contractor. But when another friend moved to San Francisco to start a tech company, he and Conwell got interested in entrepreneurship and discovered the Baltimore tech scene.
It was a natural fit for Partlow. He already loved building software projects and was good with money, Conwell said. When it came to ideas, he approached problems in a logical manner that caused people to rethink their preconceived notions.
“Devin thought differently than anyone I’ve ever met,” said Conwell.
Billie Partlow put it this way: “He didn’t take your idea. He had his own.”
TechBreakfast founder Ron Schmelzer said he pitched Hoopla in one of the monthly morning meetup’s first demos. He also pitched on Eli the Computer Guy’s YouTube series.
“He was always looking to better himself as an entrepreneur and person. He was open to feedback and great at incorporating feedback into what he did,” Schmelzer said. “He really represents the wave of startups that emerged since about 2010.”
Kithly was built around the idea of connecting people around activities. That wasn’t just a business idea for Partlow. He went on to start another company called Pixella, and also worked as a software engineer at Laurel-based Intelligenesis. Along the way, he always made time to give advice to other entrepreneurs. Conwell said he would always set specific time aside to meet with entrepreneurs, and offer advice. One way he would dispense knowledge was through recommendations, whether it was books or podcasts.
His inquisitiveness started from an early age. Partlow was born in Baltimore, and raised in the Northwest section of the city. He graduated with honors from Baltimore Polytechnic Institute before attending Morgan State on a full ride, Billie Partlow said.
He quickly mastered Legos and memorized Goodnight Moon. He quickly took to math, and computers were a chief fascination.
“Have computer, will travel,” Billie Partlow said. “He never left home without the computer.”
The sense of community was also instilled in Devin Partlow and his sister from an early age. A longtime teacher, Billie Partlow said she strived to create a home where people would feel warm, and also stressed giving back.
“When you succeed in doing things it’s not for you, it’s to benefit someone else,” she said.
Funeral services for Partlow were held May 20.-30-
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