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‘Stakeholder capitalism’ reigns supreme as legacy Baltimore accelerator wraps 11th cohort

The Conscious Venture Lab just graduated eight more startups tackling problems like media representation, construction sustainability and AI biases.

Novella Center CEO Jeff Cherry at the Conscious Venture Lab accelerator's 2024 demo day (Sameer Rao/

During a speech that explored economic history dating back to the mid-1800s, Joe Mechlinski drove home a point about value-informed innovation by paraphrasing a quote from the author Richard Bach.

“We teach what we need to learn and create what we need to heal,” Mechlinski said from the stage at City Garage in what is now called Baltimore Peninsula.

The Baltimore-raised entrepreneur and investor, who wrote the New York Times-bestselling “Grow Regardless,” delivered the keynote for last Tuesday’s demo day for the 11th accelerator cohort of the Conscious Venture Lab (CVL).

White bearded man in black shirt raises hand in front of projection screen

Joe Mechlinski (Alex Kane/Novella Center)

Mechlinski message echoed much of the enthusiasm throughout the event, and underscored the accelerator’s primary aim: to support ventures that embody what Jeff Cherry, who leads CVL parent the Novella Center for Entrepreneurship, calls “stakeholder capitalism.”

“Worshipping at the altar of shareholder value,” Cherry said, is “paradoxically” not as economically or socially valuable as taking more holistic, equitable and humane approaches to building a company.

After remarks from Mechlinski, as well as leaders and event copresenters like Bob Storey of The LaunchPort and Kory Bailey of UpSurge Baltimore, Cherry brought the founders of the eight latest companies out to pitch.

These entrepreneurs came from as close as Baltimore and as far as Mexico City to participate in CVL’s eight weeks of mentorship, education and related programming, managed by Marianna Pappas. Their interventions ranged from non-insertive menstrual products to a buy-now-pay-later platform for Latin American corner stores to coloring books with characters of color, tackling problems as varied as AI hiring tools’ discriminatory biases and commercial buildings’ energy waste.

Check out the demo day program and cohort member info

Women in black and light blue outfits present in front of screen.

(L to R) Co-CEOs Kareen Ndema and Sara Weitz of period. (dot). (Alex Kane/Novella Center)

Cherry offered more reflections on this cohort and the program’s stated priorities in a follow-up newsletter.

“All of us who [are] doing this work, bear witness to a true renaissance,” he wrote. “A rebirth — comprised of an exploration of talent, a commitment to impact and a fierce desire to leave no one behind — which, I believe, will result in an age of shared prosperity for this city that has heretofore never been seen.”

CVL organizers are accepting applicants for the 12th cohort through July 17.

Apply for CVL

Cherry’s perspective guides his work beyond the Novella Center’s programs, which includes leading Conscious Venture Partners, an investment firm that counts Mechlinski as a general partner. That view also informs the organization’s participation in the Economic Development Administration’s Tech Hubs bid for the Baltimore region, which he discussed with Bailey and Storey on stage.

“This,” Cherry said at last week’s demo day, “is going to be the next great startup ecosystem.”

Companies: UpSurge Baltimore / Conscious Venture Lab / Economic Development Administration

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