Roundups / Startups / Awards

Here are this year’s 20 most promising startups in Baltimore: realLIST 2019

Meet the next wave of startups growing big ideas into local companies.

The Baltimore skyline. (Photo by Flicker user Phil! Gold)
For the people looking to move within a thriving tech community, it’s important to be able to easily call upon the key players.

Yet a changing economy brings new names and differing measures of success.

While the influence of the more established companies can be measured in clear metrics such as revenue, workforce size and sheer square footage, pointing to the most promising members of a group of startups that work in a diverse set of fields and typically count no more than a handful of employees is more art than science.

So it’s no surprise that the second group brings a considerable level of interest about who has the promise and the panache to stand out. Around, it’s often communicated with a simple question:

“Who’s real?”

Two years ago, that’s why we created the realLIST. (See 2018’s honorees here and 2017’s here. Check out our first-ever Columbia realLIST here.) The annual roundup identifies the startups that have already made moves to gain early traction. And much like the early-stage investors looking at startups in hopes of finding great companies, we look at factors like the makeup of the team, the strength of the idea behind the product and the size of the potential market.

With plenty of accelerator programs, coworking spaces and other meeting points growing around the city, there are lots of companies to consider. So we also set out some ground rules. To be considered, startups must meet the following criteria:

  • Be no more than three years old — That sunset period stems from cofounder Christopher Wink’s 2012 definition of a startup. This sunset period took away lots of members of last year’s list, as well as companies that have successfully moved out of that early stage where they’re figuring out their business model. We had to draw the line somewhere.
  • Make the majority of their revenue from a product — That means agencies were not eligible.
  • Have not exited or undergone an acquisition, IPO or something close to that nature.

With a significant period of new company formation from 2011 to 2013, the last two years saw plenty of startups reach a point where they became the established companies that built large workforces, or exited to join the ranks of those teams.

Yet in creating the 2019 list, it was clear that Baltimore has a fresh new crop of companies toward the beginning of the cycle. Some are shepherded by experienced founders from the last generation, while others are seeking new ground in areas like fintech and consumer technology.

One important caveat about this list: Not making this list does not mean we deem a startup “unreal.” This is simply a snapshot of what we’re most excited about right now.

Now, here’s a look at the startups in the Baltimore’s realLIST 2019:

10. ReGelTec

CEO Bill Niland led one of the local startup community’s most successful exits of recent years, as Harpoon Medical’s 2017 deal to be acquired by Edwards Lifesciences delivered 10x returns to at least one early investor.

The longtime medical device entrepreneur and key Harpoon team members quickly returned in 2018 with a startup commercializing technology developed at Drexel University. While ReGelTec’s treatment for degenerative disc disease still has significant testing requirements for development ahead in 2019, the company already attracted funding from Harpoon’s previous investors as Niland laid out a path that could follow a similar gameplan.

9. Protego Labs

In working at the leading edge of problems, Baltimore’s cybersecurity talent often takes on approaches to new technology. That’s the case with Protego, a company which is addressing potential vulnerabilities in serverless computing. The field remains new, and CEO Tsion Gonen has talked about seeking to make security a priority alongside the efficiency the form of cloud computing can deliver.

8. Femly

Arion Long thinks organic feminine care products should be available anytime they’re needed. Her startup, Femly, delivers with the popular subscription box model.

Long is a pitch competition star, having won numerous contests from the local Beta City pitch competition to the Grow Your Biz competition backed by financial giants. As she seeks to grow the Baltimore-based business, a plan to stock public restrooms with products by partnering with local companies shows she has plenty of room to grow at the intersection of access and business.

7. Pinkaloo

This startup is applying the user-centered principles that led to big changes in financial transactions to charitable giving. While we’ve seen approaches that seek to modernize the corporate charity drive, Pinkaloo showed early traction through partnerships with large firms and a platform that offers up both the ability to quickly use emojis and view the necessary tax documents. CEO Gideon Taub has prior experience leading teams with Baltimore adtech company Videology.

6. ClearMask

The story of this startup began when Allysa Dittmar was was set to undergo surgery. Dittmar, who is deaf, said her interpreter didn’t show up, leaving her unable to understand the specialists about to perform a procedure. The frustration that followed led to the idea for a transparent surgical mask.

ClearMask, which she founded with Aaron Hsu, has proven compelling at a series of local pitch competitions and accelerators. The cofounders see potential for clearer communication to help in any moment when patients are under duress. With initial funds raised and word of the startup’s potential circulating, the company is looking to enter the clinical trials and pilots that will help make the product available.

5. BurnAlong

In the age of streaming, this Owings Mills-based startup created a platform that provides on-demand health and fitness classes. The video technology allows flexibility to complete a workout wherever and whenever a person is, while still allowing for the social nature and accountability that comes with going to a gym or studio. After developing the technology and building up supply of available classes, the company, led by co-CEOs Daniel Freedman and Mike Kott is seeking to scale its work with companies that can offer the platform as part of a wellness plan.

4. NextStep Robotics

Among a recent wave of University of Maryland spinouts developing technology that grew out of work across multiple labs and campuses, this startup is utilizing robotics to treat foot drop, which is a condition commonly found in stroke patients. The company was the second to receive investment from the Maryland Momentum Fund, and CEO Brad Hennessie has become as much a champion for entrepreneurship in university settings as his own product.

3. Cerebro Capital

CEO Matthew Bjonerud drew on years of experience in corporate banking to create a platform that uses data to provide info on available loans for the middle market businesses that often don’t have obvious options for access to capital. Bjonerud has experience at local tech anchor Laureate Education and that company’s former CEO Doug Becker is on the startup’s board. The founder sees plenty of businesses that can benefit from the service in the Baltimore area.


This adtech has a new approach to helping companies earn revenue from video advertising. Instead of focusing on increasing the volume of ads that run, the company’s platform addresses underlying technology that can cause money to be lost when ads don’t run like they’re supposed to. Led by longtime executive David Jacobs, the startup follows in the footsteps of Millennial Media, Videology and plenty of other companies that were formed by team members of Baltimore’s best-known adtech pioneer.

1. Facet Wealth

This fintech startup has a bold vision to bring tech-enabled functions into the process of providing financial planning services, but doesn’t eliminate human advisors from the process altogether. The approach is designed to extend services to clients who may not be as profitable for a big firm, but still want access to long-term planning services they provide.

The startup made a splash by raising $33 million in 2018, and we’re looking out for growth that extends into the following year. CEO Anders Jones’ story of leaving the Bay Area for Baltimore is resonating as the nationwide tech community begins to look at tech being created across the country.


Finally, a few honorable mentions (in no particular order):

Who did we miss? Tell us who’s on your realLIST.

Companies: Facet Wealth / Pinkaloo / Burnalong
Series: RealLIST Startups / RealLIST

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