Under the leadership of founding director Wendy Bolger, the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship counts the Baltipreneurs Accelerator as its main offering among various supports for members of Baltimore’s thriving startup scene. Established in 2018, the center was created in response to a pressing need for more resources to support underrepresented entrepreneurs in the city.
Bolger explained that the center took a strategic approach to program development by conducting market research and analyzing the needs and challenges faced by Baltimore’s founders. That involved sourcing from leaders throughout various sectors.
“We asked for a lot of advice from Jeff Cherry, Deb Tillet, Mustafa Wahid, Neil Davis, and many other generous ecosystem leaders,” Bolger told Technical.ly. “Our admiration for the work of Saras Sarasvathy [and her entrepreneurship theory] ‘effectuation’ provided the backbone for our approach to understanding entrepreneurship, and we took inspiration in Jesuit values from Fr. Tim Brown, and lessons in pedagogy from former Dean of Loyola School of Education, Josh Smith. Four years in, trial and error and Baltiprenueurs’ feedback continue to play a big role!”.
The accelerator, one of the center’s key foci, has been instrumental in providing such founders with multitudinous resources. The program’s latest nine-founder cohort completed a 10-session curriculum between December 2022 and March 2023 that culminated in the aforementioned Demo Day.
“We expect that participation in the program will accelerate the growth and success of the ventures that participate, and due to the close-knit and collaborative nature of the ecosystem, that elevated acumen will ripple out community-wide,” Bolger explained.
Despite these consistencies from prior years, the program evolved to provide personalized content for each venture. Here are some of the changes that Bolger explained via email:
The accelerator’s evolution and impact
Bolger explained that she and her team decided to revamp the accelerator’s awards system this year, as she mentioned, “We’re always looking to improve and iterate. One issue we encountered was that the scores were clustering very tightly, with winners being determined by just half a point or even a quarter of a point. It didn’t feel genuine to award thousands of dollars based on such a small point spread. Another factor was that having a vote during the event made some of the Baltipreneurs feel nervous and pressured to vote thoughtfully, while also having to pitch their ventures. It was too much to ask them to do all of that.” The new model moves away from a traditional Olympic-style ranking system to one in which ventures must secure votes in several distinct categories amongst their peers a week before the demo day.
Bolger went even further back to break down the program’s impact on its participant founders since its 2019-2020 pilot period:
- In this first year, the Baltipreneurs Accelerator received over 60 applications and took place mostly in person with local mentors.
- In 2020-2021, the program pivoted to virtual and grew from nine entrepreneurs in eight ventures to 19 entrepreneurs across 13 ventures, with mentors coming from across the country. Organizers additionally introduced the popular “Legal and Accounting Fest”, a part of the curriculum in the evening program where the cohort is introduced to a myriad of accountants and lawyers in a business speed-dating style event. This year, the program also received two grants from the Maryland Business Innovation Association (MBIA)/TEDCO to host “Ecosystem Night” virtual gatherings.
- In 2021-2022, the program returned to in-person meetings, held its first Demo Day and introduced the Audience Choice Award.
- In 2022-2023, the program changed its award format to voting for ventures in different categories. It also offered the Women Founders Pre-Application Bootcamp and Pitch Practice sessions for the first time. In addition, partnerships with students grew to include over 90 pupils working in teams to create social media plans, storytelling assets and financial and accounting documents for each Baltipreneur.
- Each 2022-2023 participant received $2,000 in stipends upon completion of the program. Founders from this latest cohort are also eligible to apply for grants of up to $10,000 from MBIA/TEDCO Commercialization grants and to be considered for investment from the $250,000 Loyola Angels fund.
- Lastly, this year’s program featured new awards such as the Hustle Award, Impact Award, Peerless Award and Greyhound Award; these honors recognize major strategic and operational pivots, social or environmental impact, building a strong network of support and achieving 10x growth, respectively.
The latest cohort’s awardees:
- Hustle Award (co-sponsored by PitchCreator): Nina Guise-Gerrity of getGFTD won $5,500 for achieving the most in the program, from making significant strategic and operational changes to meeting aggressive milestones and completing tasks in FounderTrac, a community-based acceleration program intended to offer founders with a network of educational and support resource, mentorship and possible investment. She also credits the program with helping her to hone her pitch.
- Impact Award: Paula Dofat from HBCU Money Guide won $5,500 for her platform’s potential to make the largest possible social and/or environmental impact in Baltimore and beyond.
- Peerless Award: Jen Fry of Coordle won $5,500 for making the best use of the cohort to build a strong network, seek support and assist others.
- Greyhound Award: Donta Henson from Los Hermanos Tequila won for having the greatest potential to achieve 10x growth. The prize was $5,500.
- Audience Choice Award: The in-person audience recognized Treehouse Juicery’s Todd Sheridan for delivering the strongest pitch presentation of the evening. This award came with a $3,000 cash prize.
Here’s more of what the nine 2022-2023 cohort members said they took away from this year’s program:
- Ina Kovacheva of Arch Dash, which provides sustainable building solutions with improved decision-making tools for architects, said that the support, mentorship, and inspiration provided by Baltipreneurs enabled her to make connections with fellow cohort members and the Baltimore entrepreneurship community.
- Bianca Jackson of the metaverse-based collaborative and meeting space developer BrickRose Exchange said Baltipreneurs helped her company establish and nurture relationships with other entrepreneurs, which may lead to opportunities for collaboration and resource-sharing.
- Fry of Coordle, an app for collectively planning travel, said her mentorship with Chase Poffenberger of Academic Travel Abroad was crucial to getting people signed up for Coordle’s newsletter and testing.
- HBCU Money Guide is a SaaS product that lets users search for tuition support. Founder Dofat received sponsorship from DTLR – Dare To Live Right which allowed her business to participate in five Black College Expos. In those events, she was able to connect with hundreds of students and families across the country and grow her newsletter sign-ups by 74%.
- Matt Barinholtz of FutureMakers, a company that creates hands-on STEAM education resources, faced challenges identifying accessible and affordable working capital for his growing manufacturing business. Baltiprenuers connected him with local lenders and legal advisors, allowing him to find the resources he needed.
- Guise-Gerrity of getGFTD, an app for compiling wishlists, spoke about the program’s intentional focus on positive impact on the Baltimore community, with a range of businesses finding ways to celebrate Baltimore while recognizing their peers’ work.
- Henson, CEO and co-creator of the tequila distiller Los Hermanos Tequila, advised future participants to make the most of the opportunities available in the vast ecosystem of resources.
- John Matthews, a pastor and leader of Psalm 91 Ministries, joined Baltipreneurs to collaborate on his patented fintech app, e-Bless. During his time with the accelerator, Matthews found a valuable mentor and became part of the good-willed community at Loyola.
- Sheridan of Treehouse Juicery, a cold-pressed juice distributor, felt that Baltipreneurs provided a sense of community, mentorship, and guidance. Todd appreciated the legal, trademarking, and accounting professionals who visited the class and shared their expertise. He said that this knowledge helped Treehouse Juicery systemize its operations, protect its assets, increase revenue, provide employment opportunities and bridge the wealth gap — all of which contribute to building generational wealth.
Knowledge is power!
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