Last night I had the honor to give the keynote address to the crowd at the Maryland Incubator Company of the Year Awards. Occasionally, when I give talks, I post recaps of them here on my blog. Given the subject matter I chose for last nights talk, I am sharing some of the highlights I covered.

The audience was made up of what Brad Feld describes as the “Leaders and the Feeders” of an entrepreneurial community. The Leaders are the entrepreneurs, and the Feeders are the support system that feeds the community with resources, and provides the support system that helps make the cycle of entrepreneurship go around.

When I first explained to the audience the concept of Leaders & Feeders, I heard a slightly unified “gasp” when I explained that “Feeders” were the incubators, the attorneys, the investors, the service providers, etc in the room. To clarify, “Feeder” in this concept is defined as a “support roll” not as a “feeding off of” roll. Sure, there is benefit for some, but holistically speaking all participants need to be engaged to really make a community vibrant. For further clarification on this, you can watch and read Brad Feld’s direct thought’s on this concept here, and I fully agree with him.

For my talk, I wanted to emphasize the progress that the state of Maryland and the city of Baltimore has made in the last 3-5 years in regards to growing our entrepreneurial community. So many positive things have taken place, and there is a lot of momentum being built. I stated that we are finally “on the map” as a community. Our buzz is finally extending beyond the boundaries of our state’s borders, and other technology and entrepreneurial communities know that Baltimore and Maryland are making things happen.

I also wanted to take the opportunity to focus on highlighting just a few of the things that have taken place, primarily over the last 3 years, in regards to our community’s growth and momentum. This list is by no way all inclusive of all of the great things happening here, but rather a snapshot of our progress:

Early Stage Capital:

We can finally say that in the Baltimore region we now have active and growing early stage capital available to entrepreneurs. As one of the managing members of the Baltimore Angels, I can speak first hand to our own momentum. We are building an amazing group of investors, improving process, and building deal flow. More importantly, we are doing deals. Baltimore Angel’s just passed the $2mm mark of invested capital in Baltimore and regional based startups. Most of this activity has taken place in the last couple of years.

The group has attracted a lot of talented individuals, domain experts and experienced investors. We are close now in size and in investment amount to begin to lead investment rounds, versus “filling in” rounds with already established deal terms. We also have interest from regional VC’s and the foundation community to begin to co-invest along side of us.

We also have TEDCO, which has built a large amount of investment momentum through all of their programs. Rob Rosenbaum and his amazing team have done a great job activating capital and giving entrepreneurs a chance at realizing their dreams. The Baltimore Angel’s often works with TEDCO and has a history of investing in companies that have gone through TEDCO’s TCF program.

In addition, the Dingman Center Angels out of University of Maryland continues to invest in startups and contribute to the early stage capital resources here in Maryland.

Incubators:

We have almost 30 incubators now in the state of Maryland. All of them are activating programming, and making things happen for their companies and communities. I spoke also of our efforts at Betamore and the progress we have made in the last 18 months by providing another facility for community development, incubation of established companies, and education to the next generation of entrepreneurs as well as helping to fill the skill gap that exists for employers and individuals who are looking to make a transition in their careers.

Accelerator Programs

We have accelerator programs in the state! The Emerging Technology Center is now on their 3rd class of the Accelerate Baltimore program and continues to help nurture and develop batches of new early stage companies. We also recently welcomed DreamIt Health to Baltimore with their inaugural accelerator program in conjunction with Johns Hopkins University and supported by many other entities in the community. I suspect that there are more in the works to come!

Invest Maryland Challenge:

The State of Maryland’s Department of Business and Economic Development has recently completed its second Invest Maryland Challenge, whereby through a statewide competition it awarded $300,000 in investment to 3 startups, and awarded over $1mm in additional prizes to a number of other startups. This is an awesome example of state government stimulating and supporting our entrepreneurial community. I look forward to future Invest Maryland Challenges!

Growth Capital:

While we’ve made enormous amount of progress with the early stage capital environment, equally as important is the build up of our growth capital. This is critical for startups to grow. Seed & angel are vibrant, however those growth companies that are making progress and executing will need the bridge and Series A money available to them to jump to the next level. There is more and more interest and activity with growth capital in our region and I expect this to continue to grow.

Workforce Development / Professional Development:

Kudos again to the State of Maryland for launching the EARN (EMPLOYMENT ADVANCEMENT RIGHT NOW) program, which just recently announced its first round of grantees for workforce and professional development. In my talk, I also highlighted our own efforts at Betamore with the launch of last years Academy. In just a few short months we have enrolled over 60 students in our front end and back end web development courses, and 50% of those students were sent by there employers. I also highlighted UMBC Training Centers progress, with their core focus on workforce and professional development in cyber security, data analytics, leadership development and innovation. Great progress in all of these programs statewide.

Real Mentoring:

I also emphasized an area that we have made great progress in, however we need more focus and more attention on. A solid mentoring foundation in our community is growing but still needs more participation. That said, entrepreneurs both current & exited, service providers, investors, domain experts and more are giving of their time to help entrepreneurs get to the next level. This is a critical area for ensuring the development of successful companies in the region.

Colleges & Universities:

Several of the higher education institutions have activated entrepreneurship programs that are providing curriculum and programming to help get the next generation of entrepreneurs started while in school. In particular, I spoke about the recent program I developed with the Alex Brown Center for Entrepreneurship at UMBC (CBIC), which is designed to get the students who are indeed going to start companies, to do so while in school, and get them connected to the local community (off campus). Currently, there are 3 student startups working out of Betamore for the rest of the year focused on their startups as they wrap up their education. This is a macro talent retention strategy. Lets keep our talent here post education!

The University of Baltimore has also spearheaded the Ratcliffe Fellowship program which includes a 2 year program where students have to successfully launch a business prior to graduation. This is just a brief highlight of the types of programs being built around our state university system and our private institutions. More and more students are looking for a pathway to entrepreneurship as a life choice, and now they have options to pursue the path.

Active Tech Councils:

All around the state there are active technology councils that are programming content for their respective communities. In addition, there are new concepts being thought through of ones to come that will address gaps and other needs in our community.

Self Organizing Statewide Community:

Every day of the week now there are meet ups and a self organizing community of innovators. Whether is a Ruby on Rails meet up, a pitch practice, designers, etc you name it there is a group or a meet up for it. Even a local entrepreneur Ron Schmelzer has started a successful Tech Breakfast that is already scaled to 13 cities in the US and soon to be in 22 by the end of the year. We are proud that he started right here in Maryland.

Talent Attraction:

One of the other exciting things that we are starting to see here are that our assets are starting to attract AMAZING companies to relocate and BASE themselves out of Baltimore. One of our very own companies out of Betamore, Citelighter moved here from NYC, and also won the Incubator Company of the Year award in the Education Technology category. More and more companies are moving to Baltimore, yet we still need to keep building incentives on top of the assets we have. Can you say tax credits? Maybe an innovation district?

We are BUILDING A CRITICAL MASS of EdTech, AdTech, Cyber, HealthTech & Biotech companies in our city and state. Also, the MAKER movement is alive and well, with 3D printing labs and fabrication labs popping up all around. Its exciting to see the progress in that space.

What is really great to see, is government supporting industry, to education driving change in industry, to industry supporting government programs, all driving toward a stronger and healthier Maryland economy.

All of these efforts and initiatives are supportive of the 4 core layers of any sustainable entrepreneurial community, the Nucleus, Innovation, Growth and Sustainability layers. I have written about them before here.  As a visual, I have included the below image:

Screen Shot 2014-06-11 at 4.43.58 PM

My focus then turned to the sustainability layer of the ecosystem and emphasized the point that our efforts are not worth building this community and ecosystem up if we cannot ensure that it will continue on and recycle itself over and over again.

Prior to co-founding Betamore with Mike Brenner and Sean Lane, I took a lot of time to visit some of the other booming communities, ie. NYC, Boston, Austin, Chicago, Silicon Valley, Las Vegas. I wanted to find out what made them tick and what factors contributed to the momentum they all had.

I found one overwhelmingly common trait across all of them. They all had entrepreneurs who ran a cycle of entrepreneurship, meaning they had started, scaled and sold / exited a company and then gave back to the communities that supported them throughout their companies lifecycle. In addition, they all had current entrepreneurs who were engaged in giving back in some way, shape or form. This is a much needed activity to ensure that the sustainability factor continues on.

I concluded my talk with a call to action and a challenge to the audience. I asked all of the “leaders and the feeders” that were represented in the room to help sustain our momentum by continuing to get involved, or get more involved. Specifically:

To the ENTREPRENEURS: Support the communities that support you. Give back and help each other. When / if you exit, take time to make the community better than it is. Build a new program, mentor an entrepreneur or three, invest capital in startups that resonate with you. The leaders need to continue to lead the community.

To the INCUBATORS: Keep doing what you are doing! Building programs and support systems for your companies and your communities. I also challenge you to continue to build, and take your programming to the next level. Focusing on the key / core needs of your immediate community.

To the INVESTORS, SERVICE PROVIDERS, DOMAIN EXPERTS: Mentor, coach, give back, open office hours, get involved. We need you!

And in closing, we are making AMAZING progress, lets keep it going so that we can fully realize Maryland’s potential. If each of us continue to do our part, and even just a little more we can make it happen.

Onward.

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