En­tre­pre­neur mo­men­tum in Bal­ti­more

Baltimore Sun - - COMMENTARY - By Jen­nifer Meyer Jen­nifer Meyer is CEO of Be­ta­more; her email is jen@be­ta­more.com.

There is a shift tak­ing place in Bal­ti­more, and it is gain­ing mo­men­tum. The city that pro­duced the steel that built Lib­erty Ships, gird­ers for the Golden Gate Bridge and pumped out mil­lions of Chevy Astros and GMC Sa­fari mini­vans is gain­ing recog­ni­tion across the coun­try as a hub for tech­nol­ogy and en­trepreneur­ship.

In July, CBRE, a global commercial real es­tate ser­vices and in­vest­ment com­pany, ranked Bal­ti­more one of the na­tion’s 10 top mo­men­tum mar­kets in the coun­try for at­tract­ing tech­nol­ogy tal­ent.

En­tre­pre­neur Mag­a­zine re­cently dubbed Bal­ti­more the sec­ond-hottest start-up city in the coun­try. And Richard Florida, au­thor of “The Rise of the Cre­ative Class,” ranks Bal­ti­more sev­enth in the coun­try for at­tract­ing cre­ative tal­ent — highly ed­u­cated in­di­vid­u­als, of­ten in­volved in tech­nol­ogy, who com­mand high wages.

But Bal­ti­more and the state of Maryland must con­tinue to work to­gether to make even greater strides. Here are steps we can take in cer­tain ar­eas to keep the mo­men­tum go­ing.

In­vest­ment

Maryland gets high marks for at­tract­ing and grow­ing in­vest­ment cap­i­tal. Bal­ti­more area com­pa­nies ac­counted for eight of the10 big­gest ven­ture cap­i­tal deals in the state in the first quar­ter of 2016, and Maryland com­pleted 46 deals through the third quar­ter, ac­cord­ing to the PWC Moneytree Re­port. While we are not Silicon Valley, New York or Mas­sachusetts, we are in an area that prom­ises even more growth. Why? Start-ups have room to ex­pand here be­cause our mar­ket is not over­sat­u­rated with en­trepreneurs and ven­ture cap­i­tal­ists. This means our start-ups and en­trepreneurs have a bet­ter op­por­tu­nity of not only stand­ing out with their prod­uct or ser­vice but of at­tract­ing in­vest­ment and tal­ent and ul­ti­mately grow­ing. What is more, Maryland is one of the wealth­i­est states in the na­tion with 9 per­cent of in­di­vid­u­als mak­ing more than $200,000 a year. Ide­ally, this con­tin­ued growth and in­vest­ment will en­tice in­di­vid­u­als to in­vest in early stage busi­nesses that cre­ate jobs and drive eco­nomic devel­op­ment. So, like at­tracts like, or in other words; the more suc­cess­ful busi­nesses we build, the more in­vest­ment we will see.

Tal­ent

Bal­ti­more is home to some of the best uni­ver­si­ties in the coun­try. Maryland ranked No. 2 for tal­ent pipe­line in 2015, ac­cord­ing to the U.S. Cham­ber of Com­merce. While the com­bi­na­tion of ac­cess to top tal­ent and con­cen­tra­tion of STEM jobs makes Bal­ti­more an ideal lo­ca­tion to work and build a com­pany, we must con­tinue to im­prove the city’s im­age in the face of high crime and poverty. At the same time, we must work to re­tain tal­ented col­lege grad­u­ates by not only con­nect­ing them with op­por­tu­ni­ties that ex­ist here, but by build­ing new ones. It sounds so sim­ple, but com­pa­nies of­fer­ing in­tern­ships and pro­grams like Bal­ti­more Corps, Ven­ture for Amer­ica and Bal­ti­more Col­lege­town are a hand­ful of ini­tia­tives that are ef­fec­tive at keep­ing tal­ent here. We must find more ways to fill the gap be­tween tal­ented stu­dents and paid in­tern­ship op­por­tu­ni­ties. Giv­ing col­lege grad­u­ates the op­por­tu­nity to par­tic­i­pate in Bal­ti­more’s eco­nomic trans­for­ma­tion en­ables us to bet­ter com­pete for tal­ent. Sup­port­ing these ef­forts should be a key fo­cus for large and small or­ga­ni­za­tions alike.

Col­lab­o­ra­tion

When we look to build and sup­port grow­ing com­pa­nies, one of the big­gest chal­lenges is the size and depth of their net­work. Who do they know? Who can of­fer ad­vice? Bal­ti­more and the re­gion have in­cred­i­ble re­sources rang­ing from gov­ern­ment, in­cu­ba­tors, uni­ver­si­ties and in­vestors. But sup­port or­ga­ni­za­tions must do a bet­ter job help­ing busi­nesses ex­pand their net­works. Con­nec­tions, or break­ing down the Small­ti­more im­age, can cre­ate a so­cial mul­ti­plier ef­fect that adds fuel to a start-up. Bal­ti­more and the state are uniquely po­si­tioned to take on this charge. The more we con­tinue to break down si­los, sup­port each other and drive mean­ing­ful con­nec­tions, the stronger our net­work cap­i­tal will be­come.

To be sure, in­vest­ment, tal­ent and col­lab­o­ra­tion are grow­ing in Bal­ti­more. Our strong base of gov­ern­ment, mil­i­tary, higher ed­u­ca­tion and health care has proven to be fer­tile ground for start-ups fu­eled in part by a surge in col­lege-ed­u­cated mil­len­ni­als mov­ing to the city.

While we have suc­cess sto­ries, Bal­ti­more is just be­gin­ning to re­al­ize its po­ten­tial. We are al­ready wit­ness­ing sparks of bril­liance, but the mis­sion is to trans­form Bal­ti­more and the re­gion into a des­ti­na­tion for en­trepreneurs who will lead the way in de­vel­op­ing the busi­nesses of the fu­ture. These busi­nesses, we hope, will be so re­silient, cre­ative and nim­ble they will be able to with­stand global changes the in­dus­tries of the past could not.

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