More than 400 people from Baltimore’s tech community packed the atrium at Lexington Market for Thursday’s Tech Night, including Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake—the first time the mayor of Baltimore city had attended the annual celebration of the region’s tech scene since Tech Night began 22 years ago.
Organized by gb.tc, Tech Night has traditionally been held at the Convention Center in the Inner Harbor, with tickets selling for $180 apiece. The move to Lexington Market—and early-bird tickets that went for a comparatively paltry $40—signaled a bold switch by the region’s tech council, as well as an effort to take the city’s still growing yet vibrant tech scene to a neighborhood not often associated with Baltimore’s startup world, the group says.
“[This is] about building bridges and breaking down walls,” said gb.tc executive director Jason Hardebeck during his Thursday evening remarks, as he drew attention to the fact that Camden Yards, the home of the Orioles, is just blocks from Lexington Market.
To hammer home the point, Hardebeck announced that the open WiFi network Tech Night attendees had been using that evening was staying behind. Believe Wireless donated the equipment and the bandwidth, making the city-owned Lexington Market the first public market with free WiFi access for patrons.
“This is the city,” Hardebeck said, speaking into a microphone and standing on a makeshift stage on the atrium’s first floor, while networkers continued chatting on the second floor above. “This is in your house.”
Watch Jason Hardebeck’s remarks at Tech Night:
Even so, the move to Lexington Market had drawn some questions among techies on the Baltimore Tech Facebook group, along with a bit of skepticism as to whether many people would attend an event in Baltimore’s West Side. But the 470 people who purchased tickets to Thursday’s event was an attendance increase compared to the Tech Nights of the last two years, according to gb.tc.
And prior to the evening’s 7 p.m. start, a group of about 30 took an inaugural tech “crawl” through the neighborhood, making stops at the Maryland Transit Authority’s control center on Eutaw Street, the Baltimore City Police Department’s CitiWatch camera command center on Howard Street and the clockworks atop the Bromo Seltzer Arts Tower at the intersection of Eutaw and Lombard streets.
Once a scrum of people started streaming into Lexington Market, though, the focus was unambiguously on the progress the tech community has made in Baltimore city.
A “startup arena” took over the second floor of the atrium, with Parking Panda, Bizelo, CrowdStitch, 410 Labs, Magpie Sensing and roughly a dozen more startups showing off their products, apps and services, including, full disclosure, Technically Baltimore.
Entrepreneurs rubbed elbows with venture capitalists, social entrepreneurs and city officials. Among the crowd was Wasabi Ventures co-founder Tom Kuegler, Baltimore LOVE Project director Scott Burkholder, Deb Tillett, executive director of the Emerging Technology Center and city CIO Chris Tonjes.
During her remarks, Mayor Rawlings-Blake announced the kickoff of the city’s inaugural civic apps competition, with more than $10,000 in cash prizes available for people who create web and mobile applications that make it easier for citizens to use and access public services.
The evening’s capstone was the presentation of the Lamplighter Awards to nine winners. The awards, said gb.tc’s Hardebeck, were given to people, businesses or events that are “supporting or championing or choosing to create something unique in Baltimore.”
Lamplighter Award winners:
- Jane Shaab, the first executive director of the Greater Baltimore Technology Council
- IamDTech (Diversity in Technology)
- Maryland Institute College of Art
- Bryan Sivak, “for bringing a tech [and] entrepreneur” spirit to public service, according to Greg Cangialosi, Betamore co-founder and the gb.tc board member who announced two of the Lamplighters Award winners
- Millennial Media
- Believe Wireless