DEI / Entrepreneurs / Startups

These 8 equity-focused companies are set to take Baltimore to the moon

It might not be an actual moon landing, but T. Rowe Price and Baltimore Corps have offered a new chance for eight social entrepreneurship founders to get their flowers — and some meaningful support.

A group shot of Moonshot's participant companies and mentors. (Courtesy photo)

Investment management giant T. Rowe Price and nonprofit Baltimore Corps recently partnered on a new initiative that aims to get more Black founders and other entrepreneurs of color in the room with angel investors and funders.

Moonshot‘s goal is to break down the barriers that stifle Black founders when it comes to finding funding to scale. While statements announcing the initiative did not specify an exclusive focus on Black founders, its emphasis on equity has particular relevance in a predominantly Black and historically segregated city like Baltimore.

VC funding for Black-led startups doubled nationally from 2020 to 2021 — but before you get too excited, the numbers went from .06 percent of all VC funding to 1.2 percent, according to Crunchbase. That national trend shows itself in the local Baltimore funding scene: The big deals of Baltimore’s historic $768M of VC investment last year featured very few, if any, Black-led ventures.

“Many of these businesses were already doing great work in Baltimore,” T. Rowe Price Foundation president John Brothers said in a statement. “Yet, they were struggling to get in the room with investors and people who can help take their business to the next level. We sought out to change that with Moonshot.”

The inaugural class of Moonshot Innovators includes four nonprofits and four for-profit social entrepreneurship companies. Each venture received financial and pro-bono mentorship support from T. Rowe Price and its associates.

“I hope we’re changing the [Baltimore funding ecosystem] in a way that Black-led organizations are being equally funded,” Jennifer Clark, Baltimore Corps’s director of social innovation and entrepreneurship, told “There are some really great organizations that are doing really great work for their communities. I often feel that isn’t showcased the same way other things are. Moonshot is definitely a chance to continue that piece.”

The inaugural cohort, which The Daily Record reported consists entirely of Black founders, includes:

  • Brittany Young, founder and CEO of B-360 – The organization uses STEM education, community engagement, workforce pipelining and events to reimagine dirt bike culture and equip people with the skills to become engineers and professional dirt bike riders.
  • Jamye Wooten, founder of CLLCTIVLY – The place-based social change organization is linking Black-led organizations while providing resources to expand equity and economic opportunity to communities of color.
  • Tina Williams-Koroma, founder of CyDeploy – This company uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to test cybersecurity updates by creating a cloud-based replica of a company’s systems.
  • Sherrod Davis, cofounder and COO of EcoMap Technologies – The company facilitates and supports ecosystems through technology that helps users and communities navigate the resources around them.
  • Arion Long, founder and CEO of Femly – Femly is a social enterprise that improves access to healthier feminine and reproductive care with eco-friendly hygiene products.
  • Nneka N’namdi, founder and COO of Fight Blight Bmore –  N’namdi is addressing the issue of blight in Baltimore through grassroots economic, environmental and social justice initiatives that are informed by data.
  • Bree Jones, founder of Parity – The equitable development company, which is headquartered in West Baltimore, acquires and rehabilitates abandoned properties by the block to create affordable homeownership opportunities for legacy residents.
  • Ellington West, cofounder of Sonavi Labs – This Pigtown-based medical device company develops proprietary technology capable of detecting respiratory diseases like pneumonia in seconds.

The nonprofits involved in Moonshot — Parity, B360, CLLCTIVLY and Fight Blight Bmore — will participate in a two-year T. Rowe Price Foundation Entrepreneurship in Residence program.

While Moonshot currently exists as a one-time proceeding (including a showcase event earlier this month), both T.Rowe Price and Baltimore Corps hope to do something similar in the future. T. Rowe Price in particular is planning an event of a similar scale in 18 months, as well as another of a possibly smaller scale in the next six. Meanwhile, Baltimore Corps is looking for partners to do something comparable and hopes the event can act as a model for other organizations.

Donte Kirby is a 2020-2022 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Robert W. Deutsch Foundation.
Companies: EcoMap Technologies / Sonavi Labs / T. Rowe Price

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