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Baltimore / DEI / Ecosystem development / History

Business, buildup and Baltimore: Here’s what 9 tech ecosystem leaders were up to 15 years ago

Do you know what today is? It’s Technical.ly’s Anniversary! To celebrate, we asked founders of companies, hubs and nonprofits to reflect on their 2009 — and all that’s changed since then.

The traditional 15th-anniversary gift is crystal, BTW. (Courtesy Anthony McCray)

In February 2009, Technical.ly published our first article. Fifteen years later, we're still here — but a lot has changed. We're celebrating our anniversary with a look back, and a look forward.

Full disclosure: This article mentions Fearless, a Technical.ly Talent Builder client. That relationship had no impact on this report.
Cue the moody violin: It’s Technical.ly’s 15th anniversary.

Since 2009, we’ve been chasing and challenging national trends by telling stories of technology and innovation in local communities like Baltimore. Our online community of change-makers has expanded to five markets since our launch in Philly, where other organizations are also celebrating their own anniversaries.

Baltimore, too, is marking milestones, with anniversaries for Fearless, The Be. Org and Downtown Partnership of Baltimore.

In our coverage, we aim to focus not only on the industries, technology or ecosystems but also on the people who power them. We reached out to technologists, entrepreneurs and community members in Baltimore to inquire about their involvement in and around the local tech scene 15 years ago.

Michelle Geiss, cofounder and network director for Impact Hub Baltimore, reminisced on which Baltimore area companies were just getting started.

“As organizers, we spent a lot of time explaining what social entrepreneurship meant and building a supportive community around the innovative initiatives that were just getting off the ground at the time. [Like] Allovue, Baltimore Corps, GiveCorps, Mission Launch and Humanim, social enterprises were sources of inspiration,” said Geiss. “We wanted to shift the ecosystem to be better resourced, more connected and more supportive of leaders who were drawing on their lived experience to stand up [for] game-changing and innovative initiatives.”

Geiss also said that in the last 15 years, there’s been a positive evolution in Baltimore — one with so many more resources to support social entrepreneurs and small business owners with a clear commitment to equity.

From graduating from local HBCUs to living in West Africa, here’s what a few other individuals from the Baltimore tech and community ecosystem had to say about their whereabouts 15 years ago. Their responses are slightly edited for grammar and style.

Luke Cooper, founding general partner and managing director, Latimer Ventures

  • “I came to Baltimore in 2001 as a mergers and acquisitions attorney. When I eventually found my way into tech in 2006, the tech community was not even a topic of discussion. ‘Founder’ meant something totally different and in a city that boasts a 70% African American population there certainly weren’t any examples of successful Black Founders,” said Cooper in an email to Technical.ly.
  • “Technical.ly helped to illuminate some of the great things that were already here, as well as the stories that were not being told. I am honored to have been named to their RealLIST Connectors list in 2022. My success as a venture-backed tech founder has shown others what it means to come from poverty and achieve the American dream. Thanks, Technical.ly,” added Cooper, who recently launched a mini-accelerator.
Luke Cooper in a black hoodie standing in front of a group of people.

Luke Cooper. (Courtesy Black Tech Saturdays)

Arion Long, founder & CEO, Femly

  • “I graduated from Morgan State University in 2013 and founded Femly in 2016. Back then, the Baltimore tech scene was nowhere near as robust as it is now,” said Long. “Despite the ecosystem being much smaller then, I’ve always admired Baltimore’s grit, ease of navigation (when it comes to networking), and connectivity. Every city has its hangups, but Baltimore’s biggest asset is its people by far. Running a business is hard, but the togetherness that this community has fostered through the pandemic, tragedy and triumph has set a precedent that can’t be matched anywhere else.”
Woman with black hair in blue striped dress speaks before blue and purple screen.

Arion Long. (Courtesy Baltimore Homecoming)

Andrew Coy, CEO and president, Digital Harbor Foundation

  • “I remember when Technical.ly first came to Baltimore! It was a particularly pivotal time for me personally and coincided with the creation and launch of the Digital Harbor Foundation,” said Coy. “Technical.ly Baltimore has, since its launch, been an essential way for some of the bigger ideas and conversations to take place, and facilitated both in-person connections and online conversations about technology at the intersection of education, workforce development, ecosystem, diversity, equity and inclusion! As you all are hitting this milestone, it does make me think about your ever-growing and significant amount of archives and the way in which they tell the history of the Baltimore tech ecosystem.”
  • “Thank you for all the work you all have done to tell the history as it is happening and document the work of so many folks within the community. Here is to 15+ more wonderful years to come!!”

Michelle Geiss, cofounder and network director, Impact Hub Baltimore

  • “In 2009, I was living in Togo, West Africa working on initiatives that leveraged private markets and public sector health clinics to improve access to affordable, high-quality public health products. This work shaped my commitment to social entrepreneurship and to taking a total market approach to drive systems change and social impact”, said Geiss. “I moved to Baltimore two years later and immediately fell in love with the city. I connected to the social entrepreneurship organizing of Rodney Foxworth, Pres Adams and friends in February 2013 at a social change hackathon called Create Baltimore and started to plug into their efforts. At the time, the city felt fragmented and stuck in old top-down, charity-mindset ways of driving social change.”
  • “Happy birthday, Technical.ly! Your commitment to covering innovation from all angles and telling inspiring stories about change-makers who make Baltimore an incredible city to work and live has been instrumental to many of the shifts we have seen over time,” said Geiss.  “Your journalists show up, think critically and cover stories that no one else is reporting on. The Impact Hub Baltimore community is lucky to have you in its corner!”
A woman wearing a black shirt and blue sunglasses,

Michelle Geiss. (Courtesy Matthew Pasley)

Todd Marks, president and CEO, Mindgrub

  • “15 years ago was quite the change from today. Mindgrub was a startup with a handful of employees moving from my basement to our first office above a bar in Catonsville. Apple had just released the iPhone SDK [or] app store and we started releasing some of the first mobile apps in the world,” said Marks. “It is also the first year we made our first $1MM in revenue and our first year on the INC. 5000. We then went 10 years straight on the INC. 5000 and grew to over 150 team members across North America. We now have 4 practice groups including an agency, consulting, support and emerging technology teams. We specialize in making and marketing software for clients and have a recent focus on the integration of Artificial Intelligence. Technical.ly was by our side the entire time.”

Ed Mullin, executive director, Baltimore Robotics Center

  • “I think I’ve been involved with Technical.ly since it arrived in Baltimore. Maybe it’s just me, but 15 years ago it seemed like the tech community was more fun and interactive. There was a highly popular Facebook group, called Baltimore Tech, and there were daily discussions on all sorts of topics,” said Mullin. “There was also a lot of interaction between tech folks at big companies and the startup community.  And the Greater Baltimore Tech Council ran awesome events, but sort of petered out in 2012 or so. And there were hackathons where ideas were fleshed out and folks got to know each other.”

Delali Dzirasa, CEO, Fearless

  • “15 years ago, following multiple failed startups, I knew I wanted to start a company and was wrestling on the best way to do that, what it would look like, what we would sell, what I would call it [and] who I might partner with. I knew this [was] something that I wanted to do and was convinced it was something I needed to do,” said Dzirasa. “This time was going to be different. The rest were side hustles and this time I was going to go all in, 100% [with] no plan B, no backups [and] no ‘What if this doesn’t work?’ It had to work, I was out of time, I was out of energy, I needed the win. 15 years ago I was preparing to give birth to this vision. Fearless was born 17 days later.”
Man in black shirt with purple logo in front of red brick wall

Delali Dzirasa. (Courtesy Fearless)

Tammira Lucas, cofounder and CEO, The Cube

  • “15 years ago, the local tech scene didn’t really exist. There were a few organizations focused on coding but none to really support the tech entrepreneur, especially [not] for minorities. Entrepreneurship wasn’t very popular either and what we see today as an ecosystem was non-existent,” said Lucas. “I personally just started building a community for mom entrepreneurs in Baltimore because I saw the gap in education and resources for Black moms to build wealth using their talents. [The] Morgan State University Entrepreneurial Development & Assistance Center (EDAC) was the only program fifteen years ago that truly supported entrepreneurs and really supported women entrepreneurs. Thanks Omar Muhammad for being a pioneer in this ecosystem.”
Woman with black hair in red blouse poses before glass with yellow text reading "THE CUBE"

Tammira Lucas. (Courtesy)

Tonee Lawson, founder and CEO, The Be. Org

  • “This took me a while to think about because 15 years ago, The Be. Org hadn’t even been thought of yet. In 2009, I was in my master’s program and I later got my degree in biotechnology from the University of Maryland Global Campus,” said Lawson. “The country was nearing the end of the recession, fueled in part by the housing market collapse and mortgage crisis. To that point, the economy was struggling and so was the job market, as well as the tech industry. I spent a great deal of my time doing community service, spearheading a leadership development program for middle school girls at The SEED School of Maryland, which later became one of the main conduits for starting The Be. Org.”
Companies: Impact Hub Baltimore / Fearless / Mindgrub / Morgan State University / Digital Harbor Foundation / Technical.ly
Series: Technical.ly 15th Anniversary
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