Founders don’t need to leave Baltimore anymore just to get their startups going, and Charm City is getting better at charming outside firms to invest in or move to the city.
That was one of the takeaways from the Regional Investor Roundtable, held Tuesday as part of Baltimore Innovation Week.
The panel included TEDCO Capital Partners managing partner Chris College, DreamIt Baltimore managing director Jason Hardebeck, NEA venture advisor Paul Palmieri, See Jane Invest founder Kelly Keenan Trumpbour and Onevest cofounder and CMO Shahab Kaviani. The panel, held at the Emerging Technology Centers’ Haven Street incubator, was moderated by Technical.ly editorial director Christopher Wink.
“I would argue there’s some parts of building technology products today where you need more designers and less developers,” said Palmieri, who is based in NEA’s Washington office. “Things are happening more in D.C. today because there’s more designers there.”
Ultimately, the investors said, their goal isn't specifically to help the city reach full employment or diversify the workforce, but rather to have those things happen as a byproduct.
“On that score, Baltimore is in a very, very good place,” he added.
Trumpbour, whose firm is an angel investor focused on women-owned startups, said Baltimore’s bread and butter is “eds-meds-feds” and that the city’s business scene is more diverse when it comes to the kinds of businesses women are running.
“In Silicon Valley or New York, you get a lot of women entering the startup scene with a lot of women-centric businesses,” such as fashion and food, she said. “I’ve noticed in Baltimore, the women I’ve seen are not doing the girly things. I like that, I think that’s kind of cool.”
The panel members spoke about the importance of breaking down barriers among the tech professionals in the Baltimore area.
“The problem is, I think, a large number of them are still within the walls of nondescript buildings with no windows,” Hardebeck said.
One area where there was some disagreement on was whether Baltimore’s insular “Smalltimore” nature was indeed a positive thing.
Hardebeck, who moved to Baltimore first as a college student, recounted a recent conversation where somebody asserted they were from Columbia, not from Baltimore.
“I think every community is guilty of silos and isolation,” he said. “The challenge for us is to find ways to suck that talent in while they’re young and impressionable and don’t have many obligations other than student loans.”
To that point, he said, many DreamIt companies that come from outside Baltimore or outside the U.S. often stay.
“If you start recruiting talent from a city, you tend to stay there,” Hardebeck said. “We don’t want to just graduate companies and send them back where they came from. We want them to build relationships right here.”
Ultimately, the investors said, their goal isn’t specifically to help the city reach full employment or diversify the workforce, but rather to have those things happen as a byproduct.
“I think those will be outcomes, but I think this entrepreneurial technology community in Baltimore is about … innovating through products that are built, and showing workers a place that’s fun to be in and where you can excel,” Palmieri said.