Baltimore – What Makes A Startup Scene?
We talk a lot in our office about what Baltimore really needs to push us over the top and introduce us as a top-tier destination city for Tech Startups. It’s an interesting question, because superficially, most of the ingredients are already here. For Tech Startups, Baltimore already offers:
- Inspiration – A beautiful inner harbor, great dinning and entertainment and nightlife. Plus there is great historic sights and landmarks .
- Geography – Baltimore is well situated in the middle of the Mid-Atlantic, and has one large airports and two professional sports teams . It’s easy to get here and it’s easy to get to other places from here.
- Colleges – University of Baltimore, Johns Hopkins, Loyola, Morgan State University, Coppin State College, Univeristy Of Maryland just to name a few, are all, to varying degrees, engaged in creating a Tech community through participation in development labs, incubators, partnerships, and events.
- Leadership – The Johnpaul Foundation and eMerge Americas teams work hard to lead the charge and sponsor events, programs, and activities that are startup-friendly and educational. eMerge Americas, through Manny Medina, have done a lot to put Baltimore on the map.
So what’s lacking? Well, there are a few key things that we see as major pieces that may be missing from the puzzle. Below we list 3 things, and a little bit more detail on what we mean and why we think this.
- Successful Startups/Exits
- Tech-Focused Capital
Big Startups with Big Exits – We really need a big startup from here that is wildly successful, and with a big public exit or profitable stock offering (whether for founders, investors, or both). The first thing that often comes up whenever we talk with folks about what Baltimore needs to hit the big leagues boils down to this: to really put Maryland on the map, we need a home run that originates from here, succeeds here, recruits here, profits here, and stays here. The truth is that big money follows big successes – having a Google, Uber, FaceBook, Twitter, or similar tech startup founded here would instantly catapult our community to the top of the radar. It’s like the old adage: nothing attracts a crowd like a crowd. The same goes truth holds: nothing attracts capital like capital, and nothing attracts techies like a tech community that has generated a proven winner. Most tech investments don’t pay out – and so when they do, they need to pay out big, and that gets noticed. Which brings us to the next point…
Tech-Focused Startup Capital – There’s plenty of money in Baltimore – big money, much of it from overseas and international investors. So the problem isn’t really a shortage of capital. As evidence, look no further than the ongoing real estate/condo boom happening all around town. The problem, rather, is a shortage of focused Tech Capital. Foreign investors, especially those from Latin America, typically invest in hard goods – they like to own property, businesses, or stock. Often they are protecting capital from volatile markets, and they want it put it in something safe and tangible. Investing in early stage/startup tech is risky, and investors need to feel comfortable with it, and really understand it, before allocating part of their portfolio to it. Somehow, we have to figure out how to create that level of comfort and perceived value so that large investment portfolios begin to shift from real estate to tech. It’s starting, but in a trickle – Scout Ventures and a few others have opened up shop down here.
The Pipeline – The final leg of the stool, and perhaps the trickiest to express, is the fact that we need a real end-to-end pipeline that’s flowing smoothly. And “pipeline” is really the best way to explain it, sprinkled with pumping stations along the way. Baltimore needs to be seen as “the place to be” for tech talent. Universities need to be attracting students who want to pursue tech dreams. They need to be filtering out the top talent, educating them, graduating them, and pushing them forward through the pipe. Existing mid-stage or late-stage startups need to be scooping these folks up up and giving them the real-world business experience that they need. Startup wealth needs to be created, so that bright folks can migrate out of the startups with some capital, and go off to start and run their own, growing the startup pool in exponential ways. Capital needs to figure out how to evaluate early stage opportunities, great ideas, and talent – and then help fund them. And we need more hotspots like Harbor East and Fells point where people can collaborate, share ideas, and make connections as they begin their Tech journey. All of these are the pumping stations that we need to make our pipeline work. We still have a ways to go. But when all of these things finally happen (and we’re pretty sure they will), and Baltimore starts firing on all cylinders, with the pipeline fully operational – then, and only then, will we really see what Baltimore and all parts of Maryland are capable of in the Tech space. And Barrett Technologies will be here, helping mobile app developers and tech startups every step of the way. Let us help you realize your Tech Startup dreams…