Startups

How I Got Here: A Frederick leader’s lessons from The EDGE

The president and CEO of the Frederick Innovative Technology Center Inc. details her entrepreneurial path, as well as plans for The EDGE@321 facility, in this first-person guest article.

Kathie Callahan Brady (in purple) with attendees of The EDGE@321's groundbreaking event. (Courtesy photo)

This is How I Got Here, a series where we chart the career journeys of technologists. Want to tell your story? Get in touch.

This is a guest post by Kathie Callahan Brady, the CEO and president of the Frederick Innovative Technology Center, Inc. (FITCI). Self-described as Frederick, Maryland’s “first incubator/accelerator”, the nonprofit organization aims to support entrepreneurship in its eponymous city. She serves as a board member for TEDCO, a Technical.ly Ecosystem Builder client. That relationship is unrelated to this post.

People call me a “serial entrepreneur.” I think it fits.

I’ve always been driven to throw off convention and focus on reaching a goal, then set a new one. I guess that’s why I’ve been able to explore so many interests. Looking back, it seems like my previous experiences were preparation for my current role as CEO and president of the Frederick Innovative Technology Center, Inc. (FITCI).

First, some history

FITCI started in 2004 as a public-private partnership. The organization endured steep ups and downs between moving to a larger, temporary facility by 2006 and an economic downturn in the late 2000s. FITCI persisted through widespread stagnation and decline, intensified by losing its former executive director.

Despite the struggle, FITCI’s 2015-2016 board recognized it as a uniquely powerful resource for local entrepreneurs and economic development. They determined to revitalize the incubator by engaging new leadership. And it was perfect timing.

My most recent venture had grown to an $84 million valuation and I was looking for a new adventure. Joining FITCI posed an opportunity to apply my diverse experience in IT, real estate investing and financing, business coaching and healthcare. Along with founding numerous companies (including The Future CEO Club) with a mission to empower people to start and operate their own businesses, I have had the privilege of teaching at the University of Maryland and establishing a nonprofit to help children in foster care.

As a teacher, coach or healer in every role, I find the greatest satisfaction in helping others reach their highest potential. Achieving a personal goal feels great. Knowing that I’ve lifted someone else along the way is a double win. That’s what FITCI means to me.

People in multicolored clothing near blue and white flag and beige wall

The author (center, in purple) and others during the groundbreaking of The EDGE@321. (Courtesy photo)

The opportunity to join FITCI attracted me for many reasons, but it wasn’t until I talked with clients here that it fully clicked. My father was a brilliant entrepreneur whose business struggled and failed because of recession, some poor decisions and a lack of a support structure. In a startup or small business, trying to do everything alone is overwhelming.

That early experience shaped how I interpret FITCI’s mission, “to encourage technological innovation and accelerate the development of commercially viable businesses in Frederick.” I know first-hand that it’s not “just business.”

Entrepreneurs are the bravest people I know

Taking that leap affects everything: your family, security, home and future. When startups fail, employees lose jobs and communities lose integral pieces. I’ve seen what happens when it doesn’t work out — and when it does. Ultimately, FITCI offers the potential to change lives.

When I started, I called local business leaders and asked for support. Nobody told me “no” because there is fulfillment in nurturing others. It is an outlet for the driving passion inside every entrepreneur. These busy professionals volunteered for FITCI’s signature Strategic Growth and Advisory Board (a personalized benefit for members), create and lead our founder-focused programming and direct FITCI’s board. And it made all the difference.

Thinking like a lean business and focusing on client needs helped us grow by 500% since 2016, from about a dozen startups to more than 74 today. It shows how changing the perspective moved FITCI from a struggling incubator to a thriving “activator.” Even better, our clients now see a 93% success rate instead of a 50% failure rate.

My next goal is to transform the way people view business incubators. It’s time for a new concept. Startup founders are not fragile baby chicks; They are fierce. We think they are more like mountain goats, fearless and intrepid. Our job is to clear the path and let them climb.

Living on The EDGE

We do that by focusing on the 3C’s: coaching, capital, and connection. Now, we’re integrating two more Cs: community, and collaboration. Our newly announced location will be an intersection of innovation, entrepreneurial development and economic growth. On Nov. 3, we hosted about 150 ecosystem members to (literally) break down barriers between startups and the greater community with a unique groundbreaking celebration. Our partners wielded golden hammers to start reconstruction by knocking down walls.

Called The EDGE@321, this new community resource will enable development and growth for entrepreneurs. Along with laboratories and offices, plans include space for education and workforce training, other nonprofits, resource partners, community events and more established science and technology companies that support emerging startups — including FITCI graduates — around a centralized hub of action known as “base camp.”

People stand as man in brown suit puts brown axe through beige and blue wall

A scene from The EDGE@321’s groundbreaking event. (Courtesy photo)

The FITCI community continues to be my inspiration. Whether they are the successful CEOs at the top of their game who volunteer as advisors and board members, the dedicated public leaders who support us, the devoted staff or the emerging entrepreneurs at FITCI’s heart, supporters’ willingness to work together for the greater good is a powerful motivator.

In so many ways, it’s a dream job for me. I love working with an ecosystem full of passionate, like-minded people who want to make the world a better place. It yields a far-reaching impact that lets me honor my father and all the other entrepreneurs I’ve worked with throughout the years.

I’m excited about what comes next.

Series: How I Got Here
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