Friday, September 28, 2012

Scorecard for Baltimore's startup community

Update: Killer Events went from B- to B

I used Mark Suster's awesome post about building startup communities outside of Silicon Valley to make a scorecard for Baltimore's startup community. I'm writing this off-the-cuff based on my perspective and would be happy to change any of these grades if readers can provide more data:
  • A strong pool of tech founders: A. Just go to any meetup or tech event around town, and you'll meet lots of smart technically-minded, entrepreneurial engineers and business people. There are many tech people in and around Baltimore with national and international reputations, and there are many compelling startups around town (too many to name, I'm afraid to leave someone out).
  • Local capital: C. There's a lot of capital available in Baltimore but it does feel disorganized, which Mark addressed. We have several incubators and early-stage investment programs now, and things feel a little too diffused. As a step forward, check out this post Dave Troy wrote about what could be achieved if these smaller, individual efforts were combined into something larger
  • Killer Events: B. We have tons of awesome events (just check out Baltimore Innovation Week's packed calendar) but I don't see them growing enough to attract people from outside of the region without more investment and support from the city's business, municipal, and NGO sectors. For example, Betascape could become "the SXSWi of the east" if the organizers had more funding (kudos to MICA for being such a great host). In general it's hard to find space for compelling events in the city - what if the city started a program to make the convention center available at low cost to innovation community events? Update: I forgot about Baltimore TechBreakfast which is expanding to Columbia and beyond!
  • Access to Great Universities: I'll give us an A- because there are a lot of great universities and thus there is a pool of raw talent and ideas. But I don't have a sense that they're teaching much of value to startup companies. Here's what I think they should be teaching
  • Motivated Champions: B. This is the role I've chosen for myself and there are many other people who have done so as well. But we need more people of stature/fame to get involved, not just grass-roots people like me.
  • Local Press: B. This would have been an D a few months ago but now we have Technically Baltimore and Baltimore Weekly and those guys have been killing it. Special thanks to Gus Sentementes, the Sun reporter whose coverage of the tech scene is what moved us from F- to D!
  • Alumni Outreach: F. I'm not aware of any particular attempts to do this, though we make an effort to snag people when they are in town.
  • Wins: B. Doing pretty good here:, Millennial Media, BillMeLater, and more.
  • Recycled Capital: B-. Greg Cangialosi and Sean Lane are setting a great example in this regard. Both are using their success to foster a broad range of awesome new enterprises in the city.
  • Second-time entrepreneurs: A. Several interesting companies emerged from including Millennial. I'm starting a business with someone who was early at and is using the lessons learned there to help us kick ass. Ron Schmelzer is working on an exciting company after several other wins.
  • Ability to Attract a Pool of Engineers: B-. The city has a lot to offer young people but we're competing with all of the other cities that have similar assets, where The Wire wasn't filmed. I'd love to see the city launch an initiative like the ones Mark suggested specifically geared toward recruiting innovators to move and build companies here.
  • Tent-pole tech companies: Incomplete. We don't have anything on the scale that Mark describes. The closest we have is but it's now a division of AOL and not on the scale of the companies he mentions. They have really accelerated their leadership in the past 12 months by hosting and sponsoring a lot of events, so I'm holding them up as an model of what a tent-pole company could do for us. 
Was I too harsh? Too gentle? Let me know your thoughts.

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