Creating space for Black startups in Baltimore - Technical.ly Baltimore

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Nov. 9, 2016 10:14 am

Creating space for Black startups in Baltimore

A pitch event at Harbor Bank and the Baltimore Black Tech Mixer highlight a growing network of local resources for entrepreneurs of color.

Attendees mingle at Brioxy's Black Tech Mixer.

(Photo by Stephen Babcock)

To close out a Nov. 2 pitch event featuring African-American entrepreneurs, Harbor Bank Community Development Corporation Senior Vice President John Lewis put the many different ideas, stats and dollar figures that the audience had just seen into perspective.

“One of the hopes and aspirations of this sessions was that people would come come out of this session unable to say ever again that these types of companies and these types of opportunities don’t exist, because we know that they do,” he said.

The statement was as much about the ideas as about the people pitching.

During the session, 14 entrepreneurs pitched to investors from the Abell Foundation, Camden Partners, TEDCO, Village Capital and others.

Frederick Hudson, who is currently based in Las Vegas, pitched Pigeon.ly, a service that helps friends and family communicate with people in prison. (It’s in the same area as Baltimore startup Jail Mail.) Trevor Brooks pitched GunBail, the startup looking to offer people a way to trade in guns for bail. Jonathan Moore said Rowdy Orbit Impact started its first class of former inmates that it would help enter the workforce with coding classes and other training.

Chad Hall pitches at Harbor Bank. (Photo by Stephen Babcock)

Chad Hall pitches at Harbor Bank. (Photo by Stephen Babcock)

In other pitches, Phil Croskey talked about PointClickSwitch, which helps homeowners switch energy suppliers. Charlene Brown pitched Reciprocare, which helps seniors find home caregivers. Luke Cooper detailed the smartphone repair technology at Fixt. Accelerate Baltimore grad Corey Myers talked about the smart-bag they’re creating with Baggio, the startup he founded with his wife Tonika Myers. The University of Maryland grads who started Remodelmate also pitched  

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At its downtown offices, Harbor Bank provided a platform for the entrepreneurs. The company is also looking to provide space. On the third floor of the building, the bank is planning to build out “co-lab” space for African-American startups, said Calvin Young, the former mayoral candidate who is now a VP with the bank’s CDC arm.

At Brioxy's Black Tech mixer. (Photo by Stephen Babcock)

At Brioxy’s Black Tech Mixer. (Photo by Stephen Babcock)

The following night, Brioxy’s work to build social capital for innovators of color was highly visible as the Baltimore Black Tech Mixer provided a venue for entrepreneurs and tech workers to gather.

In the back of the event space at the Eubie Blake Cultural Center, Thomas Clifford talked about how he has been documenting events like the protests following police trials in Freddie Gray’s death and Wyclef Jean’s concert at Artscape.

The PosesVR founder talked passionately about the power of the medium. “It’s no longer just a video,” he said. “I’m there.”

Talk of a new incubator also emerged, as event organizer B.Cole of Brioxy talked about Kyle O’Connor’s work to create Startup Nest in Southwest Baltimore. After a Q&A, attendees were directed to talk for a few minutes with someone they hadn’t met before.

The two events were distinct in their approach, as is the work of Innovation Village in West Baltimore. Through each, however, it’s clear that new energy is emerging in this majority-black city to build networks and resources that help entrepreneurs of color realize their vision.

“This is important to Baltimore,” Harbor Bank’s Lewis said of the CDC’s work. “We know we need entrepreneurial activity, we need job growth. … We also need inclusion.”

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