Innovators pitch their business ideas to Startup Md.
Statewide competition stops by Regency Furniture Stadium
The oversized, mustard-yellow bus emblazoned with “STARTUP MARYLAND” seemed out of place parked outside of Regency Furniture Stadium on Tuesday, but local entrepreneurs knew it represented a vehicle for their ideas and innovations.
Startup Maryland partnered with Southern Maryland business advocates to bring the STRT1UP Road Show tour to Charles County for the Pitch Across Maryland competition. At each bus stop, up-and-coming companies and amateur inventors connect with savvy investors and nearby organizations to grow their ideas within the Southern Maryland ecosystem. These networking events culminate in an opportunity to hop on the bus and record a pitch video in Startup Maryland’s makeshift studio, which is then distributed throughout the business community.
“We give entrepreneurs a chance to be seen and heard,” said Michael Binko, founder and CEO of Startup Maryland. “It’s your voice that comes through, that’s what we choose to celebrate.”
Binko developed the idea for the tour as a way to promote local entrepreneurship and distribute available resources to startup companies. The show is currently in its sixth year and is nearing 1,000 participants in tour events. After considering an operation across Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia, Binko and his team decided to focus on the wealth of potential in Maryland.
“We were struggling with figuring out how are we going to tie this ecosystem model around a state whose border is kind of awkward,” Binko said. “What we knew was that our entrepreneurial community was second to none.”
Participants are entered into the Pitch Across Maryland competition, and a review panel trims the field to eight finalists, known as the “Great 8.” This group will then make lengthier pitches at the STRT1UP Showcase and potentially receive seed funding from interested organizations.
The entrepreneurs gathered in the Legends Club before the Blue Crabs took on the York Revolution and delivered 90-second pitches to the room full of the region’s ecosystem members. Representatives from the Maryland Technology Development Corporation (TEDCO), Southern Maryland Innovation and Technology (SMIT) and Gov. Larry Hogan’s office were in attendance. Following their brief company summaries, each presenter took their turn giving a two-to-four minute pitch in the studio section of the bus.
Startup Maryland Ecosytem Director Mike Venezia joined each entrepreneur on the bus to offer insight and record the videos. Venezia has been with Startup for three years, and Binko credited him with vastly improving the quality of the pitches. A successful entrepreneur himself, having co-founded multiple business ventures, Venezia serves as a mentor and director in addition to his cameraman duties.
“We can help them learn what it takes to be an entrepreneur,” Venezia said. “We can help them grow and find pathways to capital sources.
Five budding enterprises boarded the vehicle to offer ideas: Hua Wang of the cancer patient experience optimization group SmartBridge, Hritvik Patel of technology consulting company Timodox, Trevor Strand of aerospace company Trinity UAS, CEO of GaiaWrx Kim Mozingo and motorcycle innovator Mike Steele of Motobriiz.
Steele is well-known in these circles after earning a spot among the Great 8 in the 2015 competition with his motorcycle chain lubricator, which has been sold in over 40 countries and six continents. His entry for this year, a product for modifying the brakes of a motorcycle, has also had commercial success. Steele said while it’s great to rub elbows with potential investors, it’s also nice to spend time with other entrepreneurs.
“It’s good to see what other people are doing,” Steele said. “Sometimes as an entrepreneur, it’s kind of a lonely business. You feel like you’re all alone. “[STRT1UP Road Show] is kind of like a support group.”
Despite his pedigree, Steele said this year’s competition is anyone’s game.
“There are so many other good businesses, so I don’t come here with any expectations I’m going to win.”
Founder and CEO of Startup Maryland Michael Binko sits at the back of the Startup Maryland bus, the site of many business pitches delivered by hopeful entrepreneurs.