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Baltimore Innovation Week / Events / Marketing / Travel / Workplace culture

5 takeaways on building a business, from sports analogies to going global

How small companies can go global. The future of marketing. Sports lessons for business leaders. Here's a look back at ETC-hosted Business Day at Baltimore Innovation Week 2019.

At ETC, Startup Global focused on taking new products from Maryland to international markets. (Photo by Stephen Babcock)
Baltimore Innovation Week got down to business on Thursday.

The weeklong series of events gathering the tech and entrepreneurship community arrived at the home of lead organizer ETC (Emerging Technology Centers) for a full day of tactics, new approaches and networking to help businesses move forward.

The business-track day was filled with takeaways, some gleaned from panel discussions and presentations, and others from the questions that came through Q&A and networking events throughout.

Here’s a look at what we’re thinking about on the day after:

Work and travel is possible, after all.

To kick off the day, Founders Approach cofounder Phil DiMuro talked about how the office has shifted from a heavily place-based, wall-dependent design to something more open. The use of devices to meet and work means an office isn’t required, and coworking spaces have traded assigned desks for collaborative areas. That means work can happen wherever a person happens to be.

For DiMuro, that meant working while traveling was an opportunity. He was surprised to find that his productivity improved on one such trip, and reflected on how being in a new setting spurred creativity. It brought a realization.

“Just like work and life can be balanced together, work and travel can be balanced, as well,” DiMuro said.

He and cofounder Dave Phelan have led a pair of trips bringing groups of entrepreneurs to cities including Miami and Chicago. Called GoWorking, the excursions include time to cowork, as well as explore local startup and business communities. And there are plenty of travel hacks along the way.

The transition from academia to business leader doesn’t have to be a lonely one.

The academic researchers that create new inventions have a big role to play in entrepreneurship, as well. After creating something new, recognizing the use cases that they will need to develop to bring it to market and growing a business can provide space for that invention in the commercial market.

Yet getting started can be a long road, especially since business training isn’t necessarily part of an academic background. Luckily, there are programs to help.

For one, they provide funding for further development. During business day, OST Global Solutions led a session on developing a proposal for a pair of federal grants called Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR). Another program is called iCorps, which provides the guidance to go out and talk to the potential users of a product and customers about what they need. (iCorps helped one panelist as she was completing an STTR proposal.) And networking events provide connections that can help offer lessons on how others have done it.

A big takeaway for anyone starting something new: Go out and find collaborators.

Then, as a panelist said, “you’ll have partnerships and someone who you can exchange ideas with. As a team, it’s much easier than being alone.

Automation is an increasingly important part of company marketing plans.

Marketing pros are taking advantage of increased availability of data and new tools to improve how they reach people. During the Response Labs CRM and Marketing Loyalty Symposium, that was on display as Havas Helia Senior Email Campaign Manager Michael Kintslinger talked about how the agency with a prominent Inner Harbor office implemented an approach to ranking email subscribers that helped a company increase engagement with its message.

Jared Rigler, the director of prospect engagement and new student retention at Harbor East-based Laureate Education, talked about organizing a community locally around Marketo, a marketing automation software. Yet it’s also a matter of using tried and true principles, like building a culture that is focused on consumers, and creating an engaging, accessible customer experience, he said.

In response to a question from this reporter, both said they took different paths to get to their current roles. Kintslinger said he applied interests from a creative path, while Rigler began in sales. Andy Locke, who is VP and managing director at ETC-based Response Labs, said solving problems is what drives his team.

Looking at the emerging area of marketing automation as a whole, Rigler said it’s still early days. He said it’s a similar point to where advertising technology was around five to seven years ago, just as the tools that are now more common were starting to come into its own.

International expansion isn’t just for the biggest companies.

During the afternoon, the U.S. Commercial Service Maryland and Global Innovation Forum teamed for Startup Global, a series of panel discussions on key aspects of taking a business to international areas.

The first key, panelists said, was recognizing that there are opportunities for businesses from across the spectrum to work in other countries. And in a connected world, there’s a certain inevitability anyway.

“Once you put a website up you are an international company,” said Carey Arun, foreign service officer with the U.S. Commercial Service.

In considering opportunities to expand into other countries, Dr. Kimberly Brown of Baltimore-based Amethyst Technologies, said it’s not a question of size, but rather capacity. Focusing on a targeted number of markets, rather than going totally global, can be a winning approach to start.

“Focus on quality not quantity,” she said. “Being transparent and genuine is very important.”

But as with any new business offering, there’s risk. Bobby Patton of Patton Electronics stressed the importance of having a financial plan, and keeping things in proportion.

“Don’t take on a risk that’s bigger than you can afford,” he said.

One key area to consider early on is regulatory compliance:

  • Understanding the landscape of trade agreements is a necessary step, said Doug Bell of Ernst & Young, as there are local laws that must be adhered to in each area.
  • Intellectual property is another key area to have awareness about local laws, as well as what you have that could be at risk, said Nick Hawkins of Womble Bond Dicknson. Counterfeiting and brand impersonation are areas of particular concern, said Raquel Cohen of ITA.
  • Data is another asset to be protected, so take an inventory and use strategies such as two-factor authentication, said Linda Folsom Jackson of InfoAge Solutions.

In taking a business international, it’s not required that companies go alone. Agencies like the state’s Maryland Department of Commerce are providing export grants and the federal government’s U.S. Commercial Service has lots of resources.

“Don’t think you’ve got to do this all on your own,” said Sarah Clegg, head of trade policy at the British Embassy in D.C.

Sports has lots of lessons for entrepreneurship.

The night closed out with a BIW edition of Startup Grind, as the local Baltimore chapter brought together a panel of business owners to discuss how sports applies to entrepreneurship.

For ETC President Deb Tillett, there’s been a connection over the years.

“Every time I was starting a new company, I was also starting a new athletic journey,” she said.

These included cycling, horseback riding and distance running. Each has plenty of lessons for running a company. Running, for instance, requires making the key decisions for preparation and being on a solo endeavor as a CEO.

“You have to commit to the long journey,” she said.

Playing baseball, Steve Bumbry of Bee Well Living learned the value of coming in every day and putting in the work to make progress.

“What sports brings to you is that you just show up. It’s one more day of saying, what do I need to get done today to move the business forward,” he said.

And for Laura Gaworecki of Moxie Promotion, playing soccer taught a valuable lesson: You may fall down, but you always get back up again. “Don’t quit,” she said.

Companies: Emerging Technology Centers (ETC Baltimore)

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