By February 2021, the venture studio will have its headquarters at the business hub, as well.
Early Charm is taking an additional 3,000 square feet in the building, where it will have offices, conference room and communal spaces. That brings its total space at 1100 Wicomico to 5,000 square feet.
In making the move, Early Charm will depart Spark Baltimore, the Inner Harbor coworking space where it was one of the original tenants upon opening in 2016.
It comes as growth has picked up for the company, which forms and helps run businesses that are commercializing scientific discoveries coming out of the region’s research institutions. Early Charm’s companies are working in drug design, custom materials, aquaculture technologies and machine vision.
When cofounders Ken Malone and Kelli Booth started about seven years ago, they were adding one or two companies a year. Over the last couple of years, it has been more like five a year, and it now has 15 portfolio companies that work with its team and use its facilities. Early Charm’s staff is also expanding, with several new hires this fall. The two locations meant the company was spread between neighborhoods.
Now, it’ll have all team members in the same building, though some will be on different floors. Malone said that will make decision making and communication easier, and he continues to feel that innovation is a “contact sport” where folks need to sit around the table to come up with ideas and puzzle through problems.
“Adding on average a couple people a month is likely what we’ll continue to do throughout the next year so we need more space and we need to put systems in place to manage people,” Malone said. “So putting everyone in one place just makes that easier.”
They’re also finding community with a group of businesses in 1100 Wicomico, oriented around creating physical products that has stayed active during the pandemic. With big spaces and infrastructure to move freight, the 106-year-old building connects to Baltimore’s past as a center for textiles and goods. Now Early Charm is among a group of companies shaping it as an engine for businesses that make stuff in this century. Malone thinks it can be the “product innovation hub of Baltimore.”
“We’re as committed as we’ve ever been to the concept of the building,” he said. “There’s so many great innovative product companies in there, and we think being close to those companies adds a lot of value to what we do. We want to continue to expand that relationship.”
That community is building beyond the walls of 1100 Wicomico, as well. In September, Early Charm and social entrepreneurship resource network Innovation Works said they would work together on an advanced manufacturing initiative.
Leaders of the two initiatives long knew each other, as they shared a passion for innovation and entrepreneurship as means to grow the local economy and help the city. When the pandemic hit, both were involved in the push to produce PPE, as one of Early Charm’s companies spun up production capability for N95 filters quickly and Innovation Works worked procurement channels with hospital systems on efforts like the Open Works makerspace’s crowdsourced face shields.
Going forward, they’re looking to work together to identify products that are needed in a crisis and can be made locally with advanced manufacturing techniques, as well as attract funding.-30-