A new startup accelerator in Baltimore’s Mount Washington neighborhood is offering space for founders to live and work, as well as VC connections and marketing communications help.
W Ventures, launched by public relations and marketing firm Warschawski, opened applications this week for the accelerator program and space, which is located on the property of a renovated century-old church that houses the company’s HQ.
We’ll get to the specifics of the accelerator’s model below, but it’s worth pointing out that along with individual startups, this is also designed help Baltimore. Founder David Warschawski, who is spearheading the new program, is already an angel investor in local businesses, and is passionate about the growing the business community in the Baltimore-Washington region. In traveling to other cities for work, however, he has found that the region’s entrepreneurial community remains under the radar.
“Baltimore has so many good things going on, and there’s a groundswell for early-stage and startup companies, but people just don’t know about it,” he said. “Baltimore needs to be doing a better job of telling that story.”
Warschawski maintains that, if he were an early-stage founder and had a choice of where to start, “there’s no doubt in my mind that Baltimore is the best place to do it.” He listed a few of the bonafides: a burgeoning startup sector where founders and investors are committed to building the local community, a highly educated and diverse workforce, a low cost of living and infrastructure compared to other East Coast cities and healthcare institutions that attract top-tier bio talent.
With W Ventures, he wants to retain entrepreneurial talent within the city that is perennially at risk of leaving as well as bring in companies that were founded in other cities. That’s reflected in the requirements for the program: Startups must be based in the city, or be willing to relocate or open a co-headquarters in the city. It’s also visible in the space offerings, as Warschawski is offering newly renovated workspace inside its HQ building, juxtaposing historic bones and modern amenities. There’s also living space for execs at an adjacent six-bedroom house that Warschawski also owns, known as The Founder’s House.
There’s not a cohort model, or a specific focus on the kind of business or stage of development, but the accelerator is seeking high-growth business models.
“It has to be something disruptive that has large growth potential where we can be the rocket fuel to help them get there very expeditiously,” Warschawski said.
That fuel comes in two forms. One is direct investment, through an affiliated venture fund. Another, more unique, avenue is through growth marketing work.
“We will do marketing communications work to build the brand and to reach the target audience for these early-stage companies, and we are willing to do it in exchange for equity,” Warschawski said.
This option grew out of Warschawski’s experience, not just as the leader of a firm that performs such work, but as an investor. He often found that startups could benefit from marketing and communications work to go after market share, but couldn’t yet afford the services of a firm like his. So the firm is looking to offer expertise in areas like digital marketing, web development and PR. Warschawski said the amount of equity will vary based on the deal. So far, two companies have entered the accelerator, which it isn’t yet naming, and both have included more than $100,000 in either investment or marketing services.
The accelerator will also offer connections to angel investors and business leaders in the region that can help advance the business through funding, introductions or expertise. The VC firm has a network in the region that it often shares opportunities with that can in turn help the companies. So the accelerator can help to attract companies, and tie into a community that will help them grow here.
The accelerator arrives with a couple of trends in play nationally amid the pandemic. For one, we’ve been seeing live-work options arise in the pandemic in other cities. But there’s also a longer-term trend that’s among the many being accelerated during this time: Increasingly, there’s attention on tech hubs beyond the household names, as work-from-anywhere policies and costs of urban hubs are leading technologists to rethink where they’re based. That could put cities like Baltimore into the conversation as a next destination, provided folks know about it.
“We see this as an investment in Baltimore’s future, and telling the story of why Baltimore is such a great place for entrepreneurs and early-stage companies,” Warschawski said.
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