(Photo by Stephen Babcock)
Innovation Village announced Monday a slate of tech and entrepreneurship initiatives meant to spur startup growth in West Baltimore.
Along with bringing new offerings and the ideas that could follow, Innovation Village Chairman Richard May said the announcements reflect a move toward economic inclusion within the nearly seven-square-mile footprint that encompasses areas of the city that have long been shown as an example of the divide between Baltimore’s haves and have nots.
“It’s about the access gap,” May said, not only to technology and business resources but also more basic needs.
At a Monday morning press conference, leaders announced the following:
1. Free internet access in West Baltimore
- Starting in the Penn North and Sandtown area this summer, OneBaltimore is working with Innovation Village to spearhead an effort to put free WiFi in West Baltimore. Penn North will be an initial node, with the network expanding from there. A provider has not yet been selected. May said closing the digital divide is key not just for startups, but anyone looking for a job. “In order for our kids to do their homework and compete, and you can’t even get a job at a Home Depot or a CVS without applying online,” he said.
2. Conscious Venture Lab moving
- The accelerator focused on purpose-driven companies, which was previously based in Howard County, is set to move into the city. A location has yet to be named. CVL recently held a daylong bootcamp within Innovation Village. Moving into the city reflects a further attempt to expand access to resources. CEO Jeff Cherry said the Lab also has a venture fund, and aims to invest in a total of 300 Baltimore startup’s in five years.
3. GBUL Entrepreneurship Center
- With backing from the Abell Foundation, the Greater Baltimore Urban League recently opened a new entrepreneurship center in the Orchard Street Church. The center offers workshops and resources for residents looking to start businesses.
4. Food Hub
- OneMain Financial is backing a concept that’s under development in East Baltimore for a West Baltimore location as well. In East Baltimore, the food hub is designed as a space for food-related small businesses, education and job training. City Seeds, which is a program of Humanim, is set to helm the food hub.
In six months since formally launching, the leaders behind Innovation Village have been speaking at various spots around town about how creating more new businesses can help Baltimore economically. The idea is to bring more entrepreneurs into the fold and create more jobs.
May compares it to the Ravens fielding three players on Sunday.
“If we keep putting three players on the field and expect to win, we’re going to get whipped,” May said.
At events like Light City and the Greater Baltimore Urban League’s annual meeting, they’ve talked about creating a “Rise of the Rest” within cities, and the “purpose-driven economy.” They’ve also made efforts to bring the existing tech and entrepreneurship community into West Baltimore, with Startup Soiree events at Shake & Bake roller-skating rink and the historic Arch Social Club.
“If we’re going to be in a democracy, it’s got to benefit a majority of the citizens all the time,” May said of the jobs and efforts that the Innovation Village creates.