To Kory Bailey, the asset that separates Baltimore from other places where founders might want to build companies and careers is not its affordability or geographic proximity to other cities. It’s something more elemental: love.
“I was on a call recently, and someone said, ‘If New York is about money, and LA is about fame, and DC is about power, then what is Baltimore about?'” the 2022 RealLIST Connectors honoree recounted on Tuesday evening at Pigtown’s 1100 Wicomico building. “And I said that Baltimore is about love. And not that cheesy, Hollywood fantasy love — real love, right?”
Bailey characterized the city as such to a grateful crowd during an event commemorating several first-year benchmarks for UpSurge Baltimore, the startup ecosystem builder where he works as director of relationship development. The celebration took place on the actual first anniversary of Equitech Tuesdays, the networking and discussion-based meetups that Bailey organizes at Station North restaurant Alma Cocina, and also belatedly recognized UpSurge’s first birthday back in April.
Bailey, CEO Jamie McDonald and their colleagues spent much of the time since UpSurge’s launch building a funding, workforce and resources ecosystem for Baltimore technologists and boosters that revolved around the idea of “equitech.” That concept, which UpSurge built into the eponymous Techstars Equitech Accelerator and other programs, envisions Baltimore’s tech and startup scene as one that prioritizes inclusion and equity principles. The concept recognizes the persistent burdens affecting founders of color and keeping them, as well as the general population of majority-Black or non-white cities like Baltimore, from equitably reaping the benefits of a vibrant tech community.
That lens guided many of the successes UpSurge celebrated at the event. Among them was the launch of the BMore Tech Connect portal, which UpSurge partnered with digital services firm Fearless, network map-developing startup EcoMap Technologies and other local collaborators to develop. Staff of the latter company, a 2022 RealLIST Startup and Equitech Accelerator participant, were signing people into the portal at a table on Tuesday — the same day it announced the close of its oversubscribed $3.5 million seed raise.
UpSurge additionally distributed print versions of its Building in Baltimore guide, which incorporates some of the portal’s listed resources into an easy-to-access guide with business, cultural and government resources for area founders. McDonald told the crowd that the portal and guide both grew out of recommendations from 18 groups of local stakeholders that UpSurge assembled over the prior summer. She described Building in Baltimore as “the first compilation of all the city, state and federal incentives that exist for Baltimore companies.”
“It’s the fun stuff like Equitech Tuesdays and founders meetups, and that sort of thing — neighborhoods, and all the other ways that we want to make it easy for founders to access what’s happening in Baltimore,” she continued.
Asked what she saw as UpSurge’s greatest success in its first year, McDonald pointed to an assembly of them that included completing the Equitech Accelerator, bringing Techstars’ other recent accelerator with Stanley Black & Decker to the region, and a “wealth-building pilot” collaboration with Google’s X, the moonshot factory. She also cited strong relationships with city leadership, which were evident in Deputy Mayor of Community and Economic Development Ted Carter’s remarks at the event.
“Every city has an inflection point,” Carter said to the audience of founders, technologists, funders and other ecosystem leaders. “So while we have tremendous challenges here in Baltimore, equitech and your collective work represent the opportunity of Baltimore, and its promise.”
Going forth, McDonald told Technical.ly that UpSurge is building on its first year with new initiatives and programs. They include an ecosystem-wide survey with Johns Hopkins University’s 21st Century Cities Initiative on diversity in tech, and another accelerator model “to offer more structured support to Baltimore’s startups.” She also noted that Equitech Tuesdays may travel to other locations around the city.
Asked what benchmarks she wanted UpSurge to hit to know that its second year was a success, she said: “We will have continued to build both the warp and weft of the community — meaning that we help make individual efforts stronger and that we create opportunities for connection and peer collaboration and support across the ecosystem. That’s what it takes to build a strong and enduring fabric.”-30-