The last time K.C. Hopson was set to raise outside funding for EventRebels, it was the year 2000. This time, there’s a distinct difference.
“For the first time, people are walking up to me,” he said. “That’s nice. That never happened before.”
In 15 years, a lot has changed with EventRebels, which makes software for organizers of large conferences and trade shows. The company now has eight employees, and released three new apps last year. In many ways, though, the company’s stage is also reflective of what’s changed in Baltimore.
“When I got started, the first thing I did was join gb.tc,” he said, referring to the Greater Baltimore Tech Council, which was combined with Betamore earlier this year.
He attended events that helped him learn the business side of a startup, and met other tech-minded folks like Yair Flicker and Mike Subelsky.
Hopson said Baltimore’s tech scene really changed around 2008.
That’s when social media and Meetup.com enabled easier, more grassroots organizing, and events like Ignite Baltimore began to connect tech-minded folks with designers and creatives from MICA, and beyond.
“That little period of time was when a lot of walls were broken,” Hopson said. “A lot of different groups of people were coming together. ”
Throughout that time, the Emerging Technology Center, which was originally located in the Can Company, also appealed to him as the place “where the action was happening” for startups. In 2011, he set up an office there after a long time working from home.
EventRebels has an office at the ETC’s Haven campus, where employees gather on days that it’s easier not to work remotely. Hopson and the team are also still regular attendees at tech events. But after a period of rapid growth, the company is ready to expand beyond the incubator.
“We have all the pieces in place,” Hopson said.
The mobile apps are focused on helping conference planners register attendees, get feedback on sessions from surveys and track attendance. One app serves as a kind of replacement for the printed program, while another helps exhibitors at a trade show record leads. Over the last year, the company hired three new employees to build on the longtime core team of five people.
As a result, Hopson is checking out new office space with an eye toward a move out of the ETC. That search comes at a time when the folks behind new spaces like Spark and the Co-op are touting themselves as a place for tech companies who are ready to expand beyond the incubator. The spots also happen to be outside the relatively more established tech hubs like Canton and Federal Hill.
There’s also more venture capital flowing into Maryland these days, with the state recently recording its best quarter in the last two years. In the ETC Haven campus alone, NewsUp and SalesWarp have closed funding rounds in the last month.
With growth over each quarter and the company profitable, Hopson is ready to go out and raise money that will in turn help raise the company’s profile. He spends a lot of time in D.C. these days, but already has clients elsewhere, and is well acquainted with the conference hubs that are beyond the mid-Atlantic.
Hopson said the company has reach on search engines and an active blog, “but we need to have that big marketing budget for advertising,” he said.
As for the larger tech community, Hopson sees a new charge in the wake of the riots that followed Freddie Gray’s funeral. With the conversations about government effectiveness and disinvestment in East and West Baltimore neighborhoods that emerged, Hopson believes it is a time to look at, as Dave Troy recently put it, “what’s structurally broken in Baltimore.”
“It’ll be interesting to see if our community can have an impact outside our own little groups of people,” Hopson said. The challenge, he said, is to see if the tech community “can impact how the city is run and make it run better.”