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RealLIST Connectors 2021: Meet 25 leaders growing Baltimore’s tech and entrepreneurship network

It's the second edition of our list spotlighting the people opening doors and bringing others together around the innovation community. This year, we turned to last year's honorees for nominations, and put a focus on the folks who made an impact during a tough year.

Clockwide from top left: Tia Price, Koffi Harrison, Nao Gamo, David Tohn, Samantha Musgrave, John Foster. (Graphic compiled by
 When times get tough, a well-established community can move quickly to hold together, and new opportunities to build it better can emerge.

That’s what we’ve learned in the last year, as a pandemic, economic crisis and generational call for racial justice changed how we worked and considered society in ways that will last long into the future.

Given what was happening in the world, business couldn’t be as usual.

But in the Baltimore tech and innovation community, it by no means meant that things slowed down. Events looked different, but they kept going. New coalitions formed to meet the moment in ways that brought the local community together like never before.

This year wasn’t the same as last year for the community, and so our list of the people building it isn’t either.

In 2020, the newsroom reached into the community and our own archives to ask, who are the first people you’d want to be introduced to help you build, fundraise, learn, connect and grow?

The question birthed RealLIST Connectors, and we’re back this year with a second edition that’s adjusted to fit with the times.

Last year’s list was a comprehensive guide of 110 people, pulling together years of reporting. There’s no overlap between this list and last year’s. So think of this latest list as an addendum.

This year’s edition adds on to that reporting and highlights those who continued to find a way to build community and nourish the Baltimore tech ecosystem — whether by Zoom or two cups connected by wire, if they had to.

We’re looking at who has made an impact during challenging times. Some kept the community running, while others built something new. It runs the gamut of different industries, across both nonprofit and private sectors. And there’s a mix of experienced hands and others who are newer to the scene.

This list was compiled with input from Baltimore’s newsroom, including reporter Donte Kirby and assistant editor Stephen Babcock. To put it together, we gathered nominations from folks who were on last year’s list, and also turned to the past year of reporting on the local tech, entrepreneurship and innovation economies.

Take a look, and get a window into who’s building this community right now, and helping to push it forward for the future:

Claire Broido Johnson

  • Managing director, Maryland Momentum Fund
  • Leading the University System of Maryland’s active venture fund with experience as both an investor and founder in the energy sector, Broido Johnson helps “not just the portfolio companies that are funded but the many, many more that are not yet ready to be funded or cannot be funded by connecting them to her extensive network,” her nominator wrote.
Claire Broido Johnson.

Claire Broido Johnson. (Courtesy photo)

Michael Castagnola

  • Chief of staff, SmartLogic
  • Joining the influential Baltimore software development agency last year after working for the late Congressman Elijah Cummings, Castagnola quickly became an important linchpin in SmartLogic’s long-running community work. To name a couple of the initatives where he played a coordinating role: He helped to organize the youth hacking initative COVID SLAM with the Digital Harbor Foundation, and is a steering committee memeber working behind the scenes to grow Baltimore Tracks, the recently-launched coalition that brings together companies around commitments on inclusive hiring practices.

Michael Castagnola. (Courtesy photo)

Taylor DeBoer

  • Marketing and operations specialist, University of Maryland, Baltimore’s Graduate Research Innovation District (The GRID)
  • The “quiet force” behind UMB’s recently-relocated innovation and entrepreneurship hub, DeBoer helped launch the GRID’s new student incubator and is credited as a constant support to students on the campus, centering equity. Along with his primary duties, he provided tech and organizing support to a campus parent and caregiver group over the last year.

John Foster

  • Chief operating officer, Fearless
  • The operations lead at fast-growing downtown Baltimore digital services agency Fearless and cofounder of its incubator Hutch, Foster is a leader in Baltimore’s community. He has helped develop numerous playbooks on company culture, and worked alongside founders to build their ventures. A digital equity advocate, he also connects organizations and leaders in the government and nonprofit space to use their influence to make a difference not only in word but in action. “As a connector, he not only connects people, he connects policies and processes,” his nominator wrote.
John Foster.

John Foster (Courtesy photo)

 Dr. Nao Gamo

  • Cofounder, Neurosonics Medical
  • A community-oriented founder at downtown Baltimore medtech startup studio The Maryland Development Center, Gamo connects entrepreneurs by organizing healthtech meetups and a Slack workspace.

Nao Gamo. (Photo via Neurosonics Medical)

Brian Gerardo

  • Associate director of civic impact, Business Volunteers Maryland
  • A key leader at an org that connects the local business community to civic engagement opportunities, Gerado was also a founder of the Baltimore chapter of the National Association of Asian American Professionals. “There are not many opportunities for AAPI folks in Baltimore to connect, so this has been particularly important during the pandemic,” Gerardo’s nominator wrote.

Frank Glover

  • Senior director of venture funds, TEDCO
  • A familiar face at events in the Baltimore tech community, Glover kept organizing open forums for TEDCO’s seed fund virtually after the pandemic limited in-person gatherings. Bringing VC and entrepreneurial experience to a leading role in the Maryland agency’s investment activity, he has emerged as one of the go-to leaders in the state’s startup funding landscape since joining TEDCO in 2018.

Koffi Harrison

  • Operations lead, Hack Baltimore
  • Harrison emerged as the day-to-day leader at civic tech organization Hack Baltimore in a year where its influence grew through partnerships and community work. In the pandemic, the org created rapid response teams that connected civic hackers and city agencies with residents to come up with tech solutions.
Koffi Harrison.

Koffi Harrison. (Photo via Hutch)

Emmanuel (Mannie) Iroanya

  • Founder, Theta
  • A founder currently in the second year of Fearless’ incubator Hutch, Iroanya has a “superpower of connecting people,” per his nominator. Showing commitments to work with others toward inclusive growth, Theta recently joined Baltimore Tracks, the organization dedicated to improve access to opportunities for diverse and talented tech professionals.

Mannie Iroanya (Courtesy photo)

Justin Label

  • Managing director, Inner Loop Capital
  • The investor applied venture capital experience to start a Baltimore-based firm that aims to fill a gap in seed-stage funding for cyber and tech startups in the Maryland-D.C. region, and counts Baltimore companies like and Cerebro Capital in its portfolio. With Inner Loop Capital, Label is not only providing funding, but connecting startups to the local community.

Tonee Lawson

  • Executive director, The Be. Org
  • Lawson’s work serving youth isn’t limited to the umbrella of the social and emotional learning-focused organization she founded. She has long worked to bring other youth-focused nonprofits together through partnerships that add capacity to strengthen initiatives, and help leaders learn from each other. That culminated over the last year with the Baltimore Legacy Builders Collective, which brings together The Be. Org, dirt bike STEM program B360 and I Am MENtality to share resources and ultimately create a new model for funding Black-led orgs.

Madison Marks

Madison Marks. (Courtesy photo)

Madison Marks. (Courtesy photo)

Jamie McDonald

  • CEO, UpSurge Baltimore
  • A former investment banker and founder, McDonald has long played an influential role in building not just ventures, but Baltimore’s tech community as a whole. Now, as CEO of newly-launched UpSurge Baltimore, she’s working to connect entrepreneurs to resources within Baltimore and build expertise in specific innovation areas. Plus, with the org’s work to center the city’s innovation economy around Equitech and bring national accelerator TechStars to Baltimore, she’s also connecting those from outside the city to Baltimore’s community.

Kyle McQuighan

  • Strategic relationship manager, Aaronson, LLC
  • A consummate networker at the Maryland assurance, tax and consulting firm, McQuighan goes above and beyond to bring people together. That was recently on view through an event to connect emerging companies and potential buyers.

Kyle McQuighan (Courtesy photo)

Celene Monroe

  • Marketing and engagement manager, ETC
  • If you organized or an attended an event during the recently-completed Baltimore Innovation Week, Monroe had you covered. The weeklong event is just one way she drives the connectivity of the entrepreneur ecosystem across Baltimore with the city-backed incubator. Throughout the year, she and ETC bring together more than 40 organizations through Baltimore ESO (Entrepreneur Support Organization).

Anthony Morgan

  • Cofounder, Create U Network
  • Morgan connects entrepreneurs to each other and resources in West Baltimore’s Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood with a program that runs a nine-week Co.Starters curriculum out of the New Song Worship and Arts Center.

Anthony Morgan with CreateU entrepreneurs. (Courtesy photo)

Samantha Musgrave

  • Interim executive director, Project Waves
  • Musgrave recently stepped up from head of operations to lead the community Wi-Fi provider as it looks to build on a year of fast growth in response to the pandemic’s digital connectivity crisis. She’s an interegral part of connecting the organization to the public instistiuitons that allowed the org to get hundreds of residents connected to free internet over the last year.

Samantha Musgrave. (Courtesy photo)

Kim Paradise

  • Chief of staff, Mindgrub
  • Paradise coordinates across multiple departments at the Locust Point-based tech agency to define, execute, and measure the effectiveness of major organizational initiatives. She also leads the company’s charitable giving committee, coordinating the company’s nonprofit partnerships for fundraising activities like last year’s Games for Good.

Kim Paradise. (Courtesy photo)

Tia Price

Tia Price. (Courtesy photo)

Ed Roberts

  • Outreach and recruitment coordinator, Community College of Baltimore County School of Business, Technology & Law
  • A longtime community builder in Maryland’s active cybersecurity space, Roberts has for years served as the Catonsville-based institution’s information security coordinator, and was instrumental in building the tech community at CCBC. “Ed cares deeply about engaging talent and companies throughout Baltimore to build a better technology ecosystem for all,” his nominator wrote.

Linda Singh

  • Major General (ret.), Maryland Army National Guard; CEO, Kaleidoscope Affect
  • Following key leadership roles in state government with the Maryland Army National Guard, Singh’s service has extended to the Maryland entrepreneurship community over the last couple of years. She served as interim executive director of state-backed tech development agency TEDCO in 2020, and is continuing work supporting veteran entrepreneurs.
Linda Singh. (Courtesy photo)

Linda Singh. (Courtesy photo)

David Tohn

  • CEO, BTS Software Solutions
  • The leader of a Columbia-based software firm and chair of Maryland Technology Council’s tech board, Tohn has been an intregal part of helping the latter navigate COVID. Last year, he led creation of the COVID Relief Wizard for businesses seeking aid, and a new diversity, equity and inclusion committee.
David Tohn (Courtesy photo)

David Tohn (Courtesy photo)

Yashira Valenzuela

  • Organizer, Students Organizing a Multicultural and Open Society (SOMOS)
  • A member of the prominent student advocacy group at Baltimore City College High School, Valenzeula has been an activist, organizer and staunch advocate for digital equity in Baltimore. In SOMOS’ work bringing together Baltimoreans, the group’s calls resonated on a national stage.
Baltimore students and city leaders from around the country called for digital equity. ((Photo via MediaJustice)

Baltimore students and city leaders from around the country called for digital equity. (Photo via MediaJustice)

Lydia Yodie

  • Senior manager of business development and membership, World Trade Center Institute
  • Yodie is a conduit to resources for many businesses seeking to be successful in international markets. “She is relentless in her approach to connecting people and finding innovative ways to bring people together,” her nominator wrote.
Lydia Yodie.

Lydia Yodie. (Courtesy photo)


Ellington West

  • CEO, Sonavi Labs
  • The CEO of a digital stethoscope company eying global growth and one of the too-few Black women founders to raise more than $1 million, West is a willing mentor to fledgling entrepreneurs and opens up her own network, as well. Whether it is taking part in the Cartier Women’s Initiative North American Fellows program or working locally out of Harbor Designs and Manufacturing‘s 1100 space in Pigtown, West is paving the way for impact-driven startups from Baltimore, and seeking to bring others along.
Sonavi Labs CEO Ellington West at the Startup World Cup 2019 finale in San Francisco.

Sonavi Labs CEO Ellington West at the 2019 Startup World Cup. (Courtesy photo)

Donte Kirby is a 2020-2022 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Robert W. Deutsch Foundation.
Companies: Fearless / Mindgrub / University System of Maryland / Community College of Baltimore County / BTS Software Solutions / SmartLogic / TEDCO
Series: RealLIST Connectors / Tech for the Common Good Month 2021 / RealLIST

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