Accelerators / Business development / Universities

Take a look inside Loyola’s Baltipreneurs accelerator, from programing to pitch

Mentorship from Comptroller Brooke Lierman played a pivotal role for members of the fifth cohort, which just wrapped with five awards and a celebratory demo day.

A founder pitches during the 2024 Baltipreneurs Demo Day. (Courtesy Loyola University Maryland/Larry Canner)
167 years after the founding of Loyola University Maryland, the Baltipreneurs accelerator for entrepreneurs emerged to support local founders and ventures.

Five years later, the tradition of developing the whole person in a changing world remains a cornerstone of the program. That much was evidenced in the latest cohort of social ventures completing mentorship at the university’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. The participants’ accomplishments were celebrated during the accelerator’s Demo Day on Tuesday evening.

Baltipreneurs Founders standing in three rows in a purple-lit room.

Members of the 2024 Baltipreneurs cohort along with program and university leaders. (Courtesy Loyola University Maryland/Larry Canner)

Pava LaPere, the beloved founder of EcoMap Technologies, helped guide the center as a member of its advisory board shortly before her untimely passing. Her memory remains cherished and served as a starting point for remarks that Wendy Bolger, the center’s founding director, made during the event.

Bolger, along with UpSurge Baltimore, invited an audience of supporters to celebrate at McGuire Hall, situated on the second floor of the Andrew White Campus Center on the university’s Charles Street campus. Four startups emerged triumphant that night.

The awardees’ growth

Fancy Free Hair & Skin founder Iyonna Woods was recognized with the Hustle Award and $5,000 for her accomplishments in making operational pivots, including refining her business pitch. Woods produces chemical-free personal care products inside of her home and gets paid to help folks take over their manufacturing at any scale.

In a December interview with, Woods, a.k.a. “Fancy,” said that her background in medical lab science, manufacturing and cosmetology equipped her to pursue her dreams through the cohort.

“I do have big visions for Fancy Free Hair & Skin and The Fancy Factory,” she said But my skill is not pitching.”

Woods received other strategic support from fellow Baltipreneurs cohort mates Declan Budnitz and Andrew Schmutter, a pair of Loyola students who earned the demo day’s Peerless Award and $5,000 for their use of the cohort to build a network and help others through their consultancy venture S&B Commerce.

“Besides actually [doing] e-commerce and getting my Amazon storefront together, I was encouraged by my fellow cohort mates to revamp my graphics for my [platform] design because mine was looking basic compared to theirs,” said Woods.

Iyonna Woods in white lab coat by her company's products on table with purple tablecloth.

Iyonna Woods presents Fancy Free products. (Courtesy Loyola University Maryland/Larry Canner)

Storybook Maze, a company that aims to fight book deserts (or places where literature is inaccessible), was honored with the Impact Award and also received the Audience Choice Award for delivering the evening’s most compelling pitch. Each award came with a $5,000 prize.

2023 RealLIST Engineer Rafael Casas took home the $5,000 Greyhound Award for his medical device company SpringWear’s likelihood to achieve future growth. He told that one of his first lessons was in listening.

“At the first session that we were part of, [we learned] how to become better listeners, and not just be the superhuman beings that people expect out of entrepreneurs,” said Casas.

Even though not everyone emerged victorious during this year’s demo day, Bolger encouraged founders to share their wins. For instance, Takiel Gibson, owner of Dental Desires, said that his business was accepted into another startup incubator in Carroll County. Additionally, Tisha Grant of The ContractHer Design Studio & Academy celebrated signing the lease for a space where she plans to conduct workshops.

Learn more about the latest Baltipreneurs

Lessons and resources

The Baltipreneurs cohort built up to the demo day with a series of workshops and visits from speakers offering tools, advice and other forms of support. One such event, the “Access to Capital” night in February, featured a loan officer from Baltimore Community Lending and Maryland Comptroller Brooke Lierman.

During that night, Lierman said that one of her goals as the state’s 34th comptroller for Maryland was to take the Office of the Comptroller from the mainframe to the cloud. The office further embraced tech by launching an online business tax portal, Maryland Tax Connect, that month.

Brooke Lierman in red dress speaking to people at tables in front of two black large TV screens.

Maryland Comptroller Brooke Lierman speaks to Baltipreneurs cohort members. (Courtesy Office of the Comptroller/Corey Jennings)

“Our second core priority was really making sure that we share the resources and the expertise of the agency with businesses and with communities around the state of Maryland,” said Lierman.

To that end, the office has been assembling a new team. This includes establishing a new Office of Public Engagement and Communications to meet people at events such as fairs and festivals. In addition, this year, the Office of the Comptroller appointed Laura Gutierrez as its first-ever small business and community development director.

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Comptroller Lierman also got to speak with the cohort members. For example, Casas was able to share with her that he found Maryland’s Minority Business Enterprise (MBE) program application to be difficult. She addressed Casas’ questions by highlighting her office’s endeavors to enhance funding and streamline processes for MBEs. She also noted Maryland’s distinction as the home of the oldest MBE program in the nation, as well as the recent closure of an RFP for a new CMS; that prompted her to mention another state-managed tool, eMaryland Marketplace Advantage (eMMA), that is designed to help entrepreneurs locate contracts.

Another recent Baltipreneur, Maceo Lester of film company Ikonic Visions Multimedia Group, discovered some of his contracts and opportunities in a more old-school way.

“So I was hired to film their demo day last year,” said Lester. “I was doing, like, a soundcheck on the stage and I was, like, faking as if I was pitching. And when I watched the video back, I was like, ‘Man, I could do this.’”

Update: This article has been updated to include recently confirmed $5,000 awards in each category, with a total of $25,000 awarded through the demo day. (4/2/2024, 3:04 p.m.)

Companies: EcoMap Technologies / UpSurge Baltimore / Loyola University Maryland / State of Maryland

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