No matter how you measure success – the amount of venture capital raised or the cups of coffee consumed during brainstorming sessions – Greater Baltimore is a hotbed for cool companies and the entrepreneurs who create them. The region fuses creative class talent, renowned higher education institutions and a network of resources and support to allow entrepreneurial ambition to flourish – and it offers a quality of life that allows entrepreneurs to work where they want to live.
“There are lots of young entrepreneurs who like Baltimore’s cost of living, convenience and young population. I would also say there are a large number of social entrepreneurs who are making a big difference as well,” says David Warnock, managing partner for Camden Partners, a private equity firm. Camden Partners chose Baltimore for its home for the same reasons so many other firms are attracted to the region, he says, including “young talent, convenience to BWI and Penn Station and cost of living.”
In particular, entrepreneurial activity is strong in health care, education technology and cybersecurity, Warnock says. Successful companies in the region that have attracted Camden Partners’ investment include Calvert Education, a developer of school curriculums in all 50 states and more than 60 countries, and Paragon Biosciences. Paragon’s focus is on developing and manufacturing biopharmaceutical protein drugs. Camden isn’t the only investor discovering opportunities in Greater Baltimore. In the third and fourth quarters of 2014 alone, companies in the Baltimore-Washington, D.C. region received more than $600 million in venture funding. Baltimore-based Pixelligent Technologies LLC, for example, received $5.5 million in later-stage funding.
The region offers a number of resources to help promising companies get off the ground or to reach their next level of growth. TEDCO, for example, is an independent organization with the goal of being Maryland’s leading source for entrepreneurial business assistance and seed funding for development of startup companies in the state’s innovation economy. TEDCO provides mentoring, funding, and networking for entrepreneurs and startups as they bring innovative concepts to market. ADVANCE Maryland, working in partnership with the Department of Business and Economic Development, the Economic Alliance of Greater Baltimore and the National Center for Economic Gardening, works with second-stage entrepreneurs and helps businesses address challenges and identify opportunities.
Economic gardening is a strategy that identifies existing growth companies and provides critical strategic information tailored to their needs. ADVANCE Maryland provides a research team that mines sophisticated databases for its clients and leverages a number of high-end business development tools related to search engine optimization (SEO), social media marketing and geographic information systems. The process is conducted using private conference calls and secure online workspace.
Strong Co-Working Initiatives
The region offers a wealth of specialized incubator-accelerator-coworking initiatives that provide working and collaborative space, as well as mentoring, technical support and other services for entrepreneurial companies. Betamore for example, is an award-winning coworking space, incubator, and campus for technology and entrepreneurship whose mission is to make Baltimore a leading global entrepreneurship destination. Since its opening in January 2013, Betamore’s member startups have raised more than $6 million in venture funding. The typical startup working there hires a new employee every 13 days. The organization has also produced well over 700 hours of educational resources. Betamore measures its success in one more way that would be familiar to most entrepreneurs. At last count, 6,307 cups of coffee had been brewed at its campus.
Another local resource, the Dreamit accelerator program, provides seed funding for selected companies, coaching and mentoring from experienced entrepreneurs and connections to funding sources and other support. Accelerate Baltimore, an initiative of Baltimore's award-winning Emerging Technology Centers incubator and The Abell Foundation, provides entrepreneurial companies with seed capital, resources, mentors, potential partners and coworking space. Mindgrub Technologies is thriving in Baltimore, thanks in large part to the deep talent pool of computer science professionals who were trained at the University of Maryland, Baltimore and have chosen to live in the city, says Todd Marks, the company’s president and CEO.
Like the region’s startup companies, entrepreneurial activity in Greater Baltimore is “very green and early stage right now” and has a need for more investment dollars and leadership, Marks says. Looking ahead, it’s important for the city to continue to positively address quality of life issues – schools and taxes, for example – so that as recent college graduates start their families, Baltimore is the place where they choose to live and work.
“Right now this is exactly where we need to be, and the hope is that the city matures with the tech scene, so that we can remain here indefinitely,” Marks says.