Accelerators / Autonomous tech / Travel / Universities

Inside Maryland’s latest effort to support emerging businesses

Startup Grind Maryland and bwtech@UMBC joined forces and tapped their networks to make the first-ever StartUp Accelerator work.

ItinAFairy is a 21st-century virtual travel agent that provides custom itineraries based on desired interests. (Screenshot/Cody Hmelar/ItinAFairy)

A group of eight emerging companies just graduated from a new program that drew on the combined resources of one of Maryland’s main state universities and one of its fast-expanding entrepreneurial communities.

Called the StartUp Accelerator — that’s trademarked, by the way — the program is a partnership between bwtech@UMBC, the innovation and research park at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and Startup Grind Maryland.

The pilot cohort unveiled its new pitches in a virtual demo day last Tuesday, showing agricultural drones, a sustainable way to source taurine and a platform to increase health care cost and billing transparency. Over 120 people were in the virtual audience and cohort members received over 22 introductions to possible investors or mentors.

“We believe that by bringing together ambitious innovators in our state and providing them with the right tools and connections, we can make a significant impact on the future of Maryland’s economy,” said Chris Haug, founding CEO of 360 Venture Management Group and a Startup Grind Maryland organizer. “This program embodies our commitment to fostering a vibrant startup culture in Maryland.”

The goal was to create a program “designed by Maryland entrepreneurs, for Maryland entrepreneurs using Maryland-based technology,” according to Haug.

While the state has a long track record of successful startups, the rate of new startups has been on a slow decline, according to the Kauffman Indicators of Entrepreneurship’s 2020 snapshot. Citing US Census data, the US Chamber of Commerce reported that Maryland’s new business growth rate increased 0.5% between December 2022 and December 2023; this rate fell below those of neighboring Virginia (2.7%), West Virginia (5.5%), Pennsylvania (13.8%) and Delaware (19.3%) in the same period.

Presentation showing woman in top-right corner of presentation slide with images and blue and black text.

Natáur CEO Kathleen Turano (top right) presents her company’s model during the StarUp Accelerator’s 2024 demo day. (Screenshot/Cody Hmelar/bwtech@UMBC)

Haug says this accelerator was a dream child between himself and Marjie Cota, bwtech’s director of entrepreneurial services.

“We’ve been talking for years about the need for quality education and additional opportunities for Maryland startups to participate in an accelerator program,” Haug said.

Now serving as the entrepreneur in residence at bwtech, Haug made the move to house the recently combined Maryland chapters of Startup Grind at bwtech. This accelerator was created to help fill the capacity gap in connecting Maryland entrepreneurs with resources to grow their businesses.

This initial cohort was sourced internally from bwtech and Startup Grind Maryland. Haug said they wanted companies that were closer to reality than a concept; however, they opened the net wider as they tried to increase interest in this free program.

“We are especially delighted to welcome five members of the bwtech community,” Cota said about the cohort.

bwtech paid for a one-year license for cohort members to use the FounderTrac platform, while Startup Grind Maryland provided mentorship and management pro bono. bwtech is looking for corporate sponsors to fund the inaugural cohort in the fall, according to Cota.

The 12-week program offers a comprehensive curriculum on business development, including refining business models, scaling operations, marketing and team-building. Participants also gained access to a network of expert advisors, industry leaders and investors within Maryland’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Using FounderTrac for smooth sailing

Screenshot with white text on side of slide with presentation depicting drone and logo.

FounderTrac on display during a presentation by Heavy Lift Drones LLC and CEO Solomon David Spector (top right/center) (Screenshot/Cody Hmelar/bwtech@UMBC)

Each of the nine original cohort members was assigned a mentor from either of the organizing entities’ networks. Members receive continued access to their mentors after the program as well as the FounderTrac platform.

The accelerator uses that Annapolis, Maryland-based company’s signature software as the digital home base for each founder to provide the structure, guidance and tools startups need for sustainable business growth.

“We feel like FounderTrac offers the most robust platform that is available in the market today for companies at this stage of their evolution,” Haug added.

Created by serial entrepreneurs Ryan Sears and Jeffrey Mund, FounderTrac became one of the top in-person business development programs. During the pandemic, it shifted to a digital-only platform that continues today.

Moving toward the first official cohort

In the next iteration of the accelerator, the leadership team wants to expand the opportunities for the entire state of Maryland to participate in the program. Ideally, it would partner with the Maryland Department of Commerce, TEDCO and similar organizations. Leaders hope to have the inaugural program in the fall.

“There [is] a world of opportunities to provide world-class education and inspiration to our Maryland ecosystem,” Haug said. “We decided that an accelerator program would be the best way to kick this off.”

“We’re going to be getting the input from the cohort, we’re going to be getting the input from the mentors, we’re going to be looking at the FounderTrac platform and what we can do to possibly beef that up,” he added.

bwtech is exploring a further partnership with FounderTrac to expand to its 110 clients.

“[FounderTrac] really provides a proven track of how entrepreneurs can identify the pathway to success,” Cota said.

The program does not seek to compete with any other accelerator in or out of Maryland, but rather add capacity in the state for similar programs.

“We look at this as an additive to the existing portfolio of opportunities in the state that will hopefully help get more Maryland entrepreneurs into a program like this to help them go as far in their journey as possible,” Haug said. “That’s really the driver behind all this.”

Meet the pilot cohort and its CEOs

One of the original nine members, High Potential Designs LLC of Prince Frederick in Calvert County, had to drop out of the cohort. The remaining members are:


Baltimore region:


This article mentions TEDCO, a client. That relationship had no impact on this report. 

Companies: University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) / Startup Grind / bwtech@UMBC / TEDCO

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