Startups

How 5 winners of Open Works’ EnterpRISE finals plan to grow in Baltimore

The venture competition showed where making and economic opportunity intertwine.

Funding winners and judges at Open Works' EnterpRISE 2019.

(Photo by Stephen Babcock)

For Alisa L. Brock, journaling always provided an outlet. Now, she spreads the practice through Drama Mama Bookshop.

After learning lasercutting, she grew the business that creates custom journals using handmade paper, wood, a binding technique, and covers that feature affirmations. The journals are now for sale at local stores and farmers markets, and Brock is hosting events called Wine and Bind.

“We don’t just make notebooks. We allow our customers to build their own. It’s like Build-a-Bear for notebooks,” she told a panel of judges Friday night inside Open Works, the makerspace on Greenmount Avenue in Station North.

She made a lasting impression, as Brock was named the winner of Open Works’ 2019 EnterpRISE Venture Competition, earning $10,000 and the Golden Squirrel trophy.

As Open Works posted on Instagram, Brock’s entrepreneurial journey has been intertwined with the makerspace: She started by taking classes and grew into an instructor role through which she then educated others on use of the lasercutter. Now she will get free membership at the makerspace, and wants to bring on additional employees.

This intermingling of maker skills and economic opportunity was on display throughout the event, which featured 10 businesses presenting. While funding was the award, there was an overarching theme that that funding would be invested in people who could become employees or key partners in helping these visions grow in Baltimore. In that sense, it was a living demonstration of Open Works’ economic impact: providing tools and resources can help local residents turn ideas into businesses.

Presenting The Chill Station, which was awarded a second place prize of $5,000, Chester France discussed plans to hire returning citizens to make apparel such as robes for clergy, choirs, judges and graduating students. The sewing operation at Open Works could provide space to create prototypes, he said.

EdgeSense, which is creating a device to help surgeons performing breast cancer tumor removal surgery with a better visualization of the treatment area, featured team members talking about how it could develop an MVP at the makerspace, then validate the technology at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. The team was awarded $1,000.

Brianna Billups talked about how culinary skills and a mission to increase access to fresh food converged as Fully Grown. Through the social enterprise, she is looking to create healthy, locally made fruit snacks that employ students on a cohort model that will oversee all parts of the process of bringing the goods to market. She received $1,000 toward that goal.

For Brian Furr, entrepreneurship started at home. He created a one-string guitar with a color-coded system to help spread music to his daughter. With My Furr’s Guitar, he’s looking to grow a model that offers first through fifth graders a chance to build their own guitars and learn how to play them. He’s been holding events, and through “paint-build-play” workshops, and was awarded $1,000 to grow the effort.

“When they’re building their own guitar it changes the trajectory of what they believe they can do,” he said.

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