“Lean on me, when you’re not strong, and I’ll be your friend. I’ll help you carry on.” We’re all familiar with the lyrics from “Lean on Me,” the 1972 hit by Bill Withers.
If you’re in the Baltimore area, you have probably already heard about the individuals featured in this year’s RealLIST Connectors roundup (though if you didn’t, that’s why this list exists!). After recognizing over 100 of these connectors between 2022, 2021 and 2020, we present another 20 names of these linkers whose work embodies the familiar refrain of Withers’ song.
The RealLIST Connectors are the voices behind email newsletters that keep the ecosystem informed, as well as the creators of programs that support entrepreneurs and technologists in launching, expanding and succeeding. They may also be the unsung heroes who mentor others or contribute to funding business innovations behind the scenes. Some of these names may be familiar to you, while others may be new, but all of them deserve to be recognized and celebrated for their valuable contributions to Baltimore’s tech and entrepreneurship communities.
We always look for standout people to spotlight on our ReaLISTs, from Connectors to Engineers and the companies both may run. If you or someone you know deserves to be here, you can submit a nomination all year round. Until then, meet the 20 people at the synapses of Baltimore’s regional tech- and founder-driven worlds.
Anisah Best, founder and CEO, Baltimore Technology Hub
Best, a cybersecurity engineer featured in Technical.ly’s RealLIST Engineers 2021 roundup, prioritizes community impact and aims to uplift and empower others. Her insights on bridging Baltimore’s digital equity gaps are widely recognized. Through her leadership of the Baltimore Tech Hub, she has attempted and been successful in forging partnerships with city officials and community organizations to address the digital divide and its disproportionate impact. As a member of the final OSI-Baltimore Community Fellow cohort, she established an ED x Tech Literacy program.
Terrell Brown, Artist Navigator Program developer, Baltimore Corp
Terrell Brown, a self-proclaimed “multi-media strategist,” has been instrumental in his role as an Artist Navigator (inspired by a report co-authored by the T. Rowe Price Foundation, Impact Hub Baltimore and other stakeholders). He notably spearheaded impactful programming such as the Baltimore by Baltimore festival, a collaborative initiative produced in significant part by Waterfront Partnership that showcases local talent and fosters community engagement in Baltimore’s downtown neighborhood — aligning with the goals set in Downtown Partnership of Baltimore’s State of Baltimore convening earlier this year. Additionally, Terrell’s involvement in designing, testing and launching the Artist Navigator website has provided creative technologists with access to essential support and trusted resources for their career development.
Christa Daring, executive director, Baltimore Roundtable for Economic Democracy
Since January 2023, Daring has been serving in the ED role at Baltimore Roundtable for Economic Democracy, marking a notable career advancement from their previous position as a project officer. Throughout the ongoing pandemic and beyond, Daring has actively shared cooperative development expertise and resources with communities throughout Maryland. They have served as a partner and consultant on various projects, including Impact Hub Baltimore’s recent leadership transition and job opportunities. They previously served as Impact Hub Baltimore’s community manager from 2017-2018 — talk about lifting as you climb. Here’s a brief overview of some of the cooperatives in Baltimore that have benefited from Daring’s positive influence.
Ayo Figueroa, strategic program manager, MICA
Figueroa is a dynamic connector in the vibrant city of Baltimore. With a background as a creative program manager, she boasts a track record of producing and assisting in the production of impactful live events like the CIAA Tech Summit. Figueroa’s expertise extends to curating arts and tech programming, developing community engagement strategies and implementing inclusive marketing initiatives. She has collaborated with diverse teams throughout Maryland and the DC regions, leaving a lasting impact through her dedication to creating transformative experiences.
Hazel Geary, founder and board member, Monument Women’s Creative Alliance
Geary recently launched the Coworking Fridays initiative at Spark Baltimore, providing a monthly coworking day for the Monument Women’s Creative Alliance (MWCA) community to collaborate and support each other. As the “right brain” at Drio, a website design and marketing company, Geary brings her creative insights to drive success. Drio recently received the BGE Energizing Small Business Grant, showcasing its commitment to innovation. Geary’s passion for connecting people and fostering collaboration has a lasting impact on the local entrepreneurial scene, building a stronger network of innovators in Baltimore.
Hailey Jordan, chief programs officer, Dent Education
As she exits her role at Dent Education, after dedicating years to connecting Baltimore’s youth with STEM learning opportunities, we thought it fitting to honor Jordan on this list. Her strong belief in the transformative power of design has been making complex ideas accessible while elevating communities.
As a Johns Hopkins University alum, Jordan combines her expertise in neuroscience and design to explore innovative approaches to knowledge-sharing within communities. Throughout her time at Dent Education and beyond, Jordan has been driven by a commitment to empowering young minds and fostering inclusive learning environments. Her interdisciplinary background and passion for design-thinking contribute to her efforts in creating meaningful connections and driving positive change in Baltimore’s education landscape.
My-Azia Johnson, communications and engagement manager, Impact Hub Baltimore
Johnson uses a restorative justice lens to advance community goals through their role at Impact Hub Baltimore. They are dedicated to building community both digitally and in person while employing storytelling and event planning as powerful tools.
With a strong commitment to maintaining consistency, quality, and ownership over the Impact Hub brand, My-Azia takes charge of producing regular email marketing campaigns that provide valuable resources and opportunities to a network of over 6,000 social innovators. They also manage the social media community of 15,000 followers, fostering engagement and connection.
Johnson goes beyond digital platforms by developing and facilitating programming that connects and engages over 200 members and the general public. Their expertise in project management further supports the efforts of the Strategic Leadership Council, contributing to the successful execution of impactful initiatives.
Dana Ledyard, COO, CodePath.org
As a self-proclaimed criss-crosser of sectors, Ledyard is committed to supporting college students from historically underrepresented groups in computer science. She spearheads no-cost coding courses, empowering these students with the skills they need to succeed.
In addition to her role at CodePath.org, Ledyard serves as a board member and enthusiastic supporter of Code in the Schools, a startup in the Baltimore area. Through her involvement, she actively champions the mission of increasing opportunities in technology for youth. Dana’s dedication is particularly focused on empowering women to take leading roles in the tech industry, aiming to bridge the gender gap and promote diversity and inclusion.
Anthony McCray, social media marketing specialist, Baltimore Homecoming
McCray is a special part of Baltimore Homecoming as the communication and events fellow, playing a role in keeping the organization’s community connected through the power of storytelling. As a full-time entrepreneur and the cofounder of Pasaro Studios, McCray understands the transformative impact of visual storytelling and its ability to forge meaningful connections.
With a focus on perfecting his creative craft as a photographer, McCray has traveled alongside alumni of Baltimore Homecoming in 2023, capturing the essence of their journeys and experiences in other cities. As a Baltimore native, he is rooted in the city and driven to effect change. Through his work, Anthony fosters a sense of unity and pride, keeping us connected and inspired as we navigate the ever-changing landscape of Baltimore’s vibrant community.
Deverick Murray, director of programming, Media Rhythm Institute
As a musician, debate coach and youth advocate, Murray offers valuable connection within Baltimore’s entertainment tech sector. As a co-founder of MRI Studios, he believes in the power of hip-hop beyond music and culture, integrating it into education and media. Deverick opens doors for aspiring youth to master production software and provides access to cutting-edge technology.
Marianna Pappas, program director, Novella Center for Entrepreneurship
Despite the name change at her workplace this year, Pappas continues to provide vital links for Baltimore’s entrepreneurial resources and individuals. Over the past few years, she has been in charge of the Conscious Venture Lab accelerator program, guiding entrepreneurs in gaining a deeper understanding of their businesses and making a meaningful social impact.
Jim W. Peterson Jr., VP and small business ambassador, M&T Bank
Peterson is a highly regarded figure within the Baltimore entrepreneur landscape, known for his extensive network and wealth of experience. He holds a pivotal role as a connector and catalyst for growth. Jim’s presence is felt at various events, from pitch competitions to mixers, where he actively engages with entrepreneurs and provides invaluable mentorship.
With a passion for supporting emerging businesses, he goes above and beyond to share his expertise and insights on small business growth. His presentations on “do’s and don’ts” offer practical guidance and inspiration to aspiring entrepreneurs. Peterson’s commitment to sharing opportunities and wisdom further solidifies his reputation as a trusted resource within the community. Beyond his role at M&T Bank, Peterson plays a vital part in mentoring programs, accelerators, and incubators throughout Baltimore.
Eden Rodriguez, head of people operations, EcoMap Technologies
Rodriguez is a key figure at EcoMap, a company known for creating platforms that support diverse ecosystems, including entrepreneurial communities and entire industries. Rodriguez handles personnel matters, playing a crucial role in ensuring smooth operations. She is also actively involved with the board of Baltimore Tracks, where she reaches out to various organizations over DEI work. By collaborating with different groups, she strives to cultivate an inclusive and diverse tech community in Baltimore.
Hannah Shaw, communications manager, Wide Angle Youth Media
Shaw is a key member of Wide Angle Youth Media and a vital connector in the Baltimore entertainment tech community, linking youth to valuable opportunities. Her multifaceted role involves developing and managing a multimedia communication plan, creating engaging content and overseeing communications to a wide network of over 3,500 community members. Shaw’s social design expertise extends to collateral, presentations and annual reports, further amplifying the organization’s impact. Additionally, she actively strengthens the relationship between communications and programs, empowering youth voices and advancing antiracism and equity through her work by securing mentorship with industry professionals.
Krystle Starvis, COO, CLLCTIVLY
With her extensive nonprofit experience, Starvis joined CLLCTIVLY as its inaugural chief operating officer in summer 2022. Since then, Starvis has remained dedicated to promoting racial equity, narrative change, social connectedness and resource mobilization. She aims to expand the impact of CLLCTIVLY in Baltimore by increasing its capacity and implementing technical assistance and educational programs for the CLLCTIVLY network. Additionally, she will oversee the Annual Day of Giving and the #28DaysofBlack Futures campaign. She believes in the power of local social change and the strength that lies in relationships and collaboration. CLLCTIVLY has exciting upcoming events, including the second We Give Black Fest and the Baltimore Black Business Quest in August 2023.
Maddy Stokes, COO, UpSurge Baltimore
Working closely with 2022 RealLIST Connector Kory Bailey, Stokes builds and nurtures relationships to further UpSurge’s mission of driving positive change in the community. In addition to her contributions at UpSurge, Stokes actively serves on the board of the Baltimore Museum of Industry, demonstrating her commitment to broader service within Baltimore’s cultural and economic networks. Her involvement in the museum showcases her dedication to preserving and celebrating the city’s rich heritage while contributing to its economic growth.
Dennis Sullivan, executive director, CCBC’s Center for Business Innovation
As the leader of the Community College of Baltimore County’s Center for Business Innovation, Sullivan plays a vital role in bridging the gap between the regional business and startup communities and the community college. This connection holds great importance as it creates opportunities for traditionally underrepresented students to engage in technology and entrepreneurship. The tangible manifestation of this connection is evident in the annual B’more BOLD conference, held in Linthicum Heights, which showcases the collaborative efforts and impact of this partnership.
Jimmie Thomas, director of partnerships and community engagement, Media Rhythm Institute
Thomas, the cofounder of Curators of Hip Hop, has used hip-hop culture to spark global activism for years. He also established Media Rhythm Institute Studios alongside cofounders Deverick Murray and Tiffany Welch. Through programs like iDance, iRhyme, and Channel Me Media, Thomas connects youth with new opportunities in technology and art. These programs focus on filmmaking, for which Thomas imparts the lessons learned through his Maryland Institute College of Art MFA program.
Anthony Watters, director, Social Innovation Lab at Johns Hopkins University
Anthony Watters had an inspiring journey within the Social Innovation Lab (SIL) at Johns Hopkins University. Initially a member of the 2019-20 cohort, he has now taken on the role of interim director. With his experience as an entrepreneur and founder of More Watter Co., Watters offers a shining example of staying connected to and contributing to the community that helped shape him.
As SIL director, Watters actively engages with the entrepreneurial community, drawing on the collective expertise and support of its members. He organizes workshops, bringing together entrepreneurs to collaborate and learn from one another. His unwavering support and encouragement for these entrepreneurs can be seen through his constant praise of their achievements on social media.
Tiffany Welch, Director of Administration and Development, Media Rhythm Institute
Welch, a graduate of The Wharton School and the University of Maryland, is a West Baltimore native that is dedicated to establishing her roots in innovative capacity building. With a deep understanding of cultural and social dynamics, Tiffany excels in utilizing culturally and socially competent methods to strengthen social capital and enhance human services.
As the third co-founder of MRI Studios recognized on this RealList, Her focus at MRI Studios lies in expanding community arts access. She has been instrumental in addressing the disparity in arts education within communities of color through her work with the Media Rhythm Institute. Welch’s contributions have helped grow the company’s reach and impact, making arts education more accessible and inclusive.
With her expertise and commitment to fostering positive change, Welch is making a significant impact on community development and the empowerment of marginalized communities. Her passion for enhancing social capital and promoting equitable access to the arts continues to drive her efforts, creating a lasting impact on individuals and communities alike.
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