Diversity & Inclusion
Accelerators / Baltimore / Education / Entrepreneurs / Funding

Innovators of Progress returns with funding for student founders — and new equity earmarks

Markus Proctor's scholarship and support program for college-age entrepreneurs, the deadline for which closes on Jan. 8, will reserve slots for students of HBCUs plus community and vocational institutions.

Markus Proctor (bottom) with two Innovators of Progress cohort members. (Courtesy image)

This editorial article is a part of Navigating a (Possible) Recession Month 2023 in Technical.ly’s editorial calendar.

By creating the Innovators of Progress pre-accelerator program before the pandemic, Markus Proctor hoped to support a certain population — young adults in post-secondary education programs who want to become founders — in a way that other parts of Maryland’s entrepreneurship pipelines weren’t.

Proctor, who now resides in DC but founded Innovators of Progress while living in nearby Prince George’s County, cited the seeming lack of opportunities for students who are not plugged into the lucrative-yet-limited networks of elite Maryland universities that boast their own internally focused funding entities.

“We find that, despite the best efforts, there are still cracks. And some people have even described them as chasms,” Proctor, a 2016 alum of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) who became a founder and tech leader in his own right, told Technical.ly. “We try to make this [program] so that no matter what ZIP code you are born in, or where you go to school or got accepted to go to school, you have equal access to tools and resources as if you were at a College Park or Johns Hopkins.”

For the Innovators of Progress program’s next cohort, the application period of which closes on Jan. 8, Proctor took its focus on access and equity even further by earmarking two slots for students at any historically Black colleges or universities (HBCUs) across the country, as well as another two for those in any community college or vocational program in Maryland.

“Historically, most of the HBCU schools are vastly under-resourced when it comes to what types of entrepreneurship programs, mentoring capabilities and even funding that they can give to the students,” Proctor explained. “You have your outliers like Howard University, of course, that are well-funded, well-recognized. But there are so many non-Howard HBCUs out there that don’t have an entrepreneurship center. If you have a great idea, great, but there are no competitions on campus to get funding, or maybe the funding amounts are very, very little — like $500 to $1,000.”

We don't want the school that you decide to go to after high school to determine your entrepreneurial future.

Proctor noted a similar dynamic for community college pupils: “We don’t want the school that you decide to go to after high school to determine your entrepreneurial future.”

To that end, this year’s program largely follows the structure he initially conceptualized back in late 2019: For one year, a small group of students undergoes a mix of educational, mentorship and other support programming while trying to get their venture off the ground. (He’s aiming for six teams or ventures, which can have more than one person each, in this cohort.) Those selected are eligible to receive up to $1,000 per semester to support their submitted idea; the same amount for tuition each semester; and even a paid summer internship, with a company in their field of choice, that could pay up to $10,000.

This mix of seed capital and tuition support is designed to help students with novel ideas for fields as varied as tech, healthcare, finance and education to grow their entrepreneurial sealegs and take on full-time innovation careers after graduating. Those who successfully apply to Innovators of Progress’ partner accelerator — the Baltimore-based Conscious Venture Lab — can receive as much as $125,000 in additional capital.

As for who should apply, Proctor said Innovators of Progress has a general focus on Maryland but has so far accepted students from throughout the mid-Atlantic. That emphasis on the Free State, which has four public HBCUs, reflects what Proctor sees as a growing emphasis on supporting innovation across Maryland and not just in its primary population centers.

Proctor’s own career — from his residence in DC to his creating EduPal at UMBC to his recent sponsorship deal with Westminster-based MAGIC — reflects this geographic understanding. That statewide outlook also partly explains why Innovators of Progress is virtual, instead of in-person.

“Maryland is not the smallest state in the world,” he said, referencing such programs as Shore Hatchery that carry innovation foci into more remote parts of the state.

Going forward, Proctor plans to keep fundraising for the nonprofit program, including with a possible event in Baltimore this year. He also sees the warnings of a possible recession and is not as worried about its impact when it can help create “more serious founders.”

“Many of the big startups that we’ve come to enjoy the last few years were born out of recessionary periods or periods of massive recalibration,” he said. “For the students, they’ll realize that if they can make it through the toughest storm, maybe, once they go on the other side of it, it’s not as difficult.”

Apply by Jan. 8
Companies: Conscious Venture Lab
Series: Navigating a (Possible) Recession Month 2023
People: Markus Proctor
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