To get a meaningful impact from a technology and entrepreneurship community on Baltimore, our leaders need to look toward bigger heights.
It was with that in mind that a dozen technology entrepreneurial community fixtures came together to air their thoughts for the future during the first State of Startups event at the BioPark last month as part of the second annual Baltimore Innovation Week. In lightning talk format, capped by a roundtable of their peers, these leaders shared these big ideas to an audience of nearly 100.
- Invest in physical hubs of creative innovation: Jane Shaab, the executive director of the University of Maryland BioPark, was an early leader of building one of Baltimore’s strongest clusters of innovation. To retain talent and build better businesses, Baltimore needs more dense corridors of talent, letting their ideas fuel each other.
- Put the mission into entrepreneurship: Kunal Parikh, director of the Social Innovation Lab at Hopkins, knows Baltimore has problems. That’s an opportunity, as an entrepreneurship community should be grown to test models by trying to solve them. That’s a distinction.
- Be More Daring: To strengthen the region, Baltimore entrepreneurs need to look beyond their existing network, location and goals. “We need to think bigger” said Daniel Waldman of Evolve Communications.
- Edtech is a strength to build on: Look at the local tech exits in recent years, and it’s clear Baltimore has a strength in education technology. New Markets investor Frank Bonsal III, who is now leading Towson University’s entrepreneurship program, has a taste for businesses that solve ‘real’ problems. Those are two good reasons to prioritize that distinction.
- Become more Inclusive: Baltimore does not always mirror what its technology community looks like. But at a moment of change like we’re experiencing is an opportunity to make a change, thinking about diversity in areas like gender, education, race, origin and in other ways can make our region smarter, said Amaka Okoronkwo of Jumply, a women’s entrepreneurship network.
- Create networks: The Howard County Economic Development Authority is one such institution that is trying to do just that, said Stewart Gold.
- Think globally: Though Lynne Ault of London & Partners was unable to attend due to sickness, her message was sent from afar. If Baltimore wants to do better, its entrepreneurs need to leave it: to sell and attract from around the world.
- Build a better city for entrepreneurs: If, as Bill Struever of Cross Street Partners has said before, the innovation economy is all about young people, then cities need to attract them. To do so, Baltimore needs stronger urban infrastructure: transit, culture, arts and communities that welcome them. To attract technologists, one need just follow the established path to attract anyone else, said Struever. (Find video and more on this keynote here.)
- Ask Why Baltimore?: When Deborah Tillett of the Emerging Technology Centers interviews entrepreneurs, she asks the normal questions: why you, why this company, why this industry. But then she asks another: why Baltimore? Building a business in a region not explicitly known for it takes a certain kind of mentality, so you should plan on being passionate about wherever you are.
The lightning talks were wrapped then by a roundtable discussion including TK Kuegler of Wasabi Ventures, David Warnock of Camden Partners, Jess Gartner of Allovue, Chris Ashworth of Figure53 and moderated by Mike Brenner of Betamore.
Among the questions, came a rather common theme: if being in a once-in-a-world place like Silicon Valley comes with advantages to a tech entrepreneur, Baltimore is no obstacle, it simply strips away many of the early perks.
“In the end, no matter where you are,” said software firm Figure53 founder Chris Ashworth, the same week after he wrote about startup culture shortcomings, “you still have to build a business.”