(Photo by Stephen Babcock)
Monday marked the beginning of the third cohort of Conscious Venture Lab. But as the dignitaries gathered and festival vibe at the opening suggested, this wasn’t a routine start.
It’s the first cohort in West Baltimore for the accelerator focused on impact-minded startups, which meant the debut of a new space to house the cohort at Baltimore City Community College.
Founder Jeff Cherry decided to relocate the program from Columbia to provide direct support to companies in the city.
Earlier this year, he and entrepreneur Joe Mechlinksi founded SHIFT Ventures to back the program’s efforts. The goal, they’ve said, is to use business as a force for good in West Baltimore.
Speakers at Monday’s event for the new space identified the problem that the accelerator is aiming to address: the city has talent spread throughout, but the economic opportunity is lacking in areas such as West Baltimore.
“We have 622,000 team members that make up the city of Baltimore. The only way that we’re going to win is together, by activating and putting everyone on the field of opportunity,” said Richard May, the CEO of Innovation Villages who is spearheading an ambitious plan to bring an innovation district to West Baltimore. He teamed with Cherry in the effort to relocate the program. Showing that the work goes beyond the accelerator, Innovation Villages backed a daylong Smart Cities Summit at BCCC on Monday to connect entrepreneurs. Both were held during Baltimore Innovation Week.
The companies that make up the three-month Conscious Venture Lab cohort itself are also focused on improving city life, and Cherry said they were chosen for their own focus on increasing opportunity:
- GridLion helps businesses save money on energy costs.
- The Baltimore Food Hub is focused on providing space for food entrepreneurs in East Baltimore.
- UJoin, which is based in California, makes an app for grassroots advocacy.
- Parkofon, of Alexandria, Va., helps with car sharing and parking management.
- The Cube provides coworking space as well as childcare for parent entrepreneurs.
- Danae Prosthetics helps amputees design prosthetic covers.
- Treason Toting Co. makes backpacks and tote bags for urban dwellers.
With the cohort set to begin and the building complete, Cherry said the work now falls to people to build relationships that will help the companies.
“We build a family around these companies,” he said.
CVL has a partnership with Sagamore Ventures which is designed to provide access to mentorship as well as funding. On Monday, additional mentors were announced, including:
- Jacques Panis, President of Detroit-based watch company Shinola.
- Ahmad Askar, founder of social enterprise accelerator Hult Prize Foundation.
- Tina Naser, entrepreneur and principal with global management consultant Oliver Wyman.
- Brian La Gette, founder of 180s and ZeroChroma who is Entrepreneur-in-Residence at Sagamore Ventures.
As May put it, “I’ve seen this happen in other cities, but I haven’t seen it happen in a place like this.”
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