Last week I asked all of the software entrepreneurs I know in Maryland to fill out a quick survey about what they kinds of help they'd like to receive in building their companies. I asked this because I want propose a project to help my fellow entrepreneurs in Maryland, but I felt I should do more listening before I do any more talking.I promised I would anonymously summarize the results of the survey, so here's what people had to say. Ten people of very different backgrounds responded. It's totally unscientific but I think it was a fairly diverse sample.
What type of assistance would be most useful to you in starting or growing a software business in the greater Baltimore area?
- "...an organization, funded by the state or outside investments that acts as a seed funder for startups...an Angel-like organization that invests time/resources rather than capital. Local people with ideas for new software would submit proposals and the team would decide on the top 1-3 and develop a beta. So rather than having a group of investors involved, it would be a group of developers that invest their time in exchange for equity."
- "A mentor match-up service of some sort might be good. With our startup, we have basically had to teach ourselves everything because we didn't really have anyone to talk to who's already been through it."
- "I think the most needed type of assistance, in my opinion, is business/legal administration. Such things as incorporating a business, accounting, taxes, payroll, accepting credit cards for products/services, etc. I might have a great idea and working app, but then need to put in almost as much work to setup and manage the business side."""
- "A real calendar of tech events, with .ICS (so I can import into Google Calendar or Outlook or whatever I use), embeddable (just via GCal), RSS feed, twitter feed. Something where I can actually go and see a list of events hosted by Refresh, Bmore on Rails, etc...You'd think this problem was solved already, but apparently not."
- "...some forum / roundtable type of thing where people can just talk ideas would be neat too. Perhaps OpenCoffee, with some more structure, up in Baltimore somewhere. It would be nice if something like this varied in location, so that for example, it's not always down at the hive. Then again, there is arguably some benefit in having it at a standardized location."
- "Funding...Baltimore Angels is good, but they only meet every other month."
- "Exposure. Needs to be more talk about what local entrepreneurs are building...have to raise the profile of Baltimore for outside money. People have to hear about what is going on in Baltimore and see it as a hub of growth and activity, and look at startups in the area as worth investing in."
- "Support - I love the local Open Coffee...it's less than 5 people, and everyone is doing their own thing, so no one is afraid to be open and talk. It's been very helpful for me and I've found the atmosphere great."
- "Peer groups/advisors/coaching, all of which I have found in the area."
- "1) access to capital
2) talented technologists
3) universities that are engaged in the entrepreneurial world
4) service providers (lawyers, accountants, insurance agents, PR firms, recruiters, etc) who understand start-ups, and have appropriate business models
5) mechanisms which support the free flow of talent
6) a cheerleading environment where mentors are easily found and entrepreneurs benefit from the region's self-promotion
7) a culture which recognizes those who try -- even when they fail."
- "...my greatest challenge was in recruiting talent. Finding people who have actually marketed software, or developed commercial C++ applications was an enormous challenge!"
- "We are terribly underserved by the absence of an entrepreneurial culture at JHU. Perhaps, that's beginning to change, but it will take time to play out. I recently attended a discussion on the macroeconomic impact of entrepreneurialism at MIT; it's simply staggering!...Without the active engagement of our local universities, we'll never build a sufficient flow of new companies into our region."
What are your biggest challenges?
- "The biggest problem is tapping into true seed money. It seems that seed money for early stage startups is virtually non-existent. There are various Angel groups in the area and there is money to be invested, but rarely are the investors ever interested in being the first dollars spent by the company.
"Given this, it seems that a development based Angel group could help mitigate the high risk of true early stage companies such that more good ideas would get off the ground"
- "Again, never having done this before, our biggest challenge is knowing what it is we're supposed to even do or not do as a 'real' business."
- "One big problem with not knowing what to do, is not immediately knowing who can help you sort those things out. With regards to legal issues, we've already been through two big-name law firms that charged big $, but they had almost no experience with startups and were not able to guide us well at all."
- "I think my biggest challenge is once I have established business and working app (which is a challenge in itself), is marketing and getting the word out as well as creating a sustainable revenue model."
- "Knowing who to trust....and whose referrals to trust."
- "Finding talent. Dealing with taxes."
- "...finding leads is of course a big thing."
- "As for products, hashing through marketing and sales plans...Putting processes in place to fill a pipeline, getting the word out, building sales efforts, etc. And 'getting the word out' - and marketing and sales in general - is different for products for a niche vs. products for the online masses. Looking for money too is a challenge...but it seems like Baltimore Angels is trying to address that."
- "Money. Finding good people. Money"
Is there anything else you'd like to say?
- "Go Baltimore. All of this stuff is wicked exciting. I moved here because it was the closest city to home. I'm staying because Baltimore is poised to claim a huge stake in the future of big tech happenings."
- "I think some kind of Y Combinator in Baltimore would be great. The combination of funding, help creating a company, and ongoing support is what I would really need to create a successful software company. I also like the idea of having a group or association of small, local software companies that have weekly/monthly meetings to discuss and brainstorm and help each other out with their ideas and possibly code."
- "I think there is still a gap between the money and then entrepreneurs. It's a hard gap to bridge."
- "I've heard many times that there just aren't enough companies in Baltimore to justify more private equity. That's just not true! Moreover, there are micro communities emerging - such as with gaming or social media...Growing these communities brings more talent to the region, which leads to more successes."
- "...individuals are vitally important to an entrepreneurial success. When they come together, they create new companies. When they network, they're looking to challenge themselves, often by changing jobs. Changing jobs in Baltimore's tech world is difficult due to its relatively small size and lack of a networking forum. Making it easy for individuals to meet and network not only eases the free flow of talent (one of the things that makes Silicon Valley so successful), but causes people to want to continue their association with the networking forum that's proven helpful."
- (Several respondents graciously offered to help out or be included in any discussions, so I'll be sending some emails and things -- add a comment below if you are interested)