Introducing Baltimore’s New Accelerator Program, Startup City

April 5, 2011

9:45 am

Baltimore has officially extended you an invitation to become part of its “innovation community”.

Startup City, a just-launched business accelerator program, is recruiting 10 early-stage ventures for a 12 week program that includes mentorship, $15,000 of seed funding, office space, legal advice and workshops this summer in Baltimore.

Why Baltimore, and why now?

The term “innovation community” in this sense was coined by a Baltimore attorney, and expanded on by co-founder of Startup City, Mike Subelsky. “I’ve been searching for a term that to describe all the cool things happening in Baltimore and like cities: something to serve as a shorthand for the energy fueling our projects and the network of smart people making new contributions to city politics, society, culture, business, and technology.”

Startup City was conceived as Subelsky, a programmer and co-founder of Other Inbox (featured here in Tech Cocktail in February 2009), who envisioned a higher level of technology entrepreneurship in the city. A little over a year ago, he crafted this Google document, which is an eloquent description of the city’s strengths, summary of the problem with proposed solution, and very clear in the pronouncement that the intention is not to recreate Silicon Valley.

The document circulated around town and found its way to Monica Beeman in the summer of 2010.

*Now* is the time, because Beeman asked her friend [Subelsky], “What’s holding this up?

“Monica is the first person who made it seemed do-able,” says Subelsky. “She shone the spotlight on it.”

Beeman and Subelsky have unique strengths and backgrounds that complement each other as co-founders of Startup City. Subelsky’s experience is on the technical and entrepreneurial side, and he is also a co- founder of Ignite Baltimore. Beeman, founder of Vines to Vino, is regional director for Maryland funding at Lendio, a small business lender. Both are active and engaged members of the Baltimore entrepreneurial community, which made them well-poised to bring the economic development entities together to support Startup City programmatically and financially.

Subelsky likened the movement of Startup City from a concept to reality to what he heard Saras Sarasvathy refer to in her 2010 TedXMidAtlantic talk on the process of entrepreneurship. Sarasvathy pointed out that stakeholders who care self-select themselves into the process. “When we explained the idea of Startup City to [potential partners] and it matched their own goals, it let them opt-in on their own level. What she described is precisely what is happening to Monica and me.” The program has institutional support from the likes of the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development, the Maryland Technology Development Corporation (TEDCO), and the Economic Alliance of Greater Baltimore .

Startup City is designed to be diverse in its selection process. While the program is modeled after TechStars (Beeman spoke early on with David Cohen, TechStars founder, as well as John Richards, co-founder of BoomStartup in Utah), Startup City’s criteria isn’t as strict. “We want to take advantage of the resources Baltimore has to offer. We believe that most startups have a technology platform, but we’re open to those in the education, finance and apparel industry – Under Armor and Fila are in our backyard, we need to take advantage of that,” explains Beeman.

Another reason that *now* is the time for Startup City is the recent uptick in accelerator/incubator programs around the country. Subelsky notes the rise in specialized programs, particularly in New York City. Needless to say, the cost of living in Baltimore is a far cry from NYC, yet has its own urban character with:

  • 19th-century dense, walkable, bike-able core
  • World-class arts and culture
  • Many universities
  • Strong counterculture
  • Low cost of living
  • East Coast sensibility
  • Proximity to venture capital hub in DC/Northern Virginia
  • Access to other large cities and investment hubs via the Amtrak corridor
  • Well-educated workforce

Over 12 weeks this summer, Startup City will offer 10 new companies:

  • $15,000 in seed capital
  • Weekly master classes with experienced entrepreneurs
  • Regular access to mentors
  • Introductions to potential customers and follow-on investors
  • Free, beautiful office space collocated with the other participating companies
  • Legal, accounting, marketing, and technical assistance from Baltimore’s Emerging Technology Center
  • Vigorous coverage of their stories in the Startup City blog via video and written profiles
  • Exposure to investors, journalists, and business leaders at a Demo Day occurring at the end of the 12 weeks

Applicants are asked to apply through Startup City’s recently launched site: http://thestartupcity.com/. Applications are due April 30th at midnight.

Beeman and Subelsky are in the process of talking to potential mentors, and they will finalize the placements once it’s clear who the companies are. Matching companies with mentors with related experience is something Beeman says was learned from Tech Stars.

There is a lot of excitement in Baltimore as the process kicks off, and Subelsky’s enthusiasm is evident.

“It’s going to be an awesome summer.”

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Marla Shaivitz is a writer, developer and digital marketer. She's interested in innovations & innovators in technology and those working toward social good. Follow Marla on Twitter at @marlashaivitz.

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