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September 30, 2009

What does our local tech culture need?

Our guest blogger for today is Mike Subelsky, an organizer with Ignite (which David Troy just wrote about in a BaltTech guest post) and co-founder of OtherInbox.com. Chime in with your ideas on what the Baltimore tech scene needs to thrive.

Anyone who reads this blog knows that Baltimore has a vital and thriving technology culture. We have many good companies, events and organizations in town in various stages of growth, and it's a very creative time for starting new things. The activation energy for a new tech culture project is getting lower all the time!

This is my attempt to add fuel to the fire: a list of things our tech culture would use. I don't claim ownership or authorship of any of these ideas, and I really hope someone will see one of these and get it going. If you do you'll find a great deal of support and encouragement from the whole scene!

My original inspiration is a great blog post called Nine Tips to Building a Local Tech Culture. Fortunately we are already doing many of the things Steve Spalding lists in that post, but it's a good read nonetheless.

• Office hours with investors. We should create opportunities for local, regional and national investors to meet informally with entrepreneurs to hear pitches, provide feedback and generally get to know one another. For example, every startup in Baltimore and DC should band together and invite First Round to do an office hours in this area; their managing partner lives near us in Philadelphia.

• New product contests like http://3daystartup.com - not as a way to create companies (though that would be a nice side effect) but more as a way to introduce entrepreneurs and technologists and designers. It would also be a lot of fun, and it would get new entrepreneurs a way to quickly develop their ideas into prototypes.

• Baltimore technology podcast: how about a podcast dedicated to the local tech scene? Every couple of weeks you could interview some local awesome person about their new awesome project. Or you could do wrap-up reviews of content from Refresh, SocialDevCamp, Ignite, TEDx, etc.

• Talent exchange: I once lamented on my personal blog that there were more people in Baltimore with software company ideas than there were developers interested in working for equity. Someone commented with this great idea: "Maybe we need an exchange to meet up for the sole purpose of equity projects. Business types can pitch the programmers and alternatively, programmers can pitch the business types."

• Create something like Philadelphia's Founder Factory (http://www.founderfactory.com/about-the-factory/), an "an annual event created by Philly Startup Leaders, meant to help foster growth of an ecosystem of entrepreneurs, mentors, angels, VC’s, students, schools and government groups within the Philadelphia area. As a collaborative and engaging event, the Founder Factor helps to unleash Philadelphia’s entrepreneurial potential." I think Bootstrap Maryland is headed in this direction, but it would be nice to have some more high level support for such initiatives.

• Mentoring and investment incubators a la YCombinator and Capital Factory: a great way to attract new talent to Maryland and expose people locally to the startup life

• Tech culture portal portal: if you just moved here and wanted to find other companies building tech products, where would you go? We could use a Web site that highlights all the events, the companies, and the resources we have to offer.

• Demo days: The Beehive has "show and tell" day and I'd love to see that extended to the whole region. What if we got a whole bunch of tech companies that each got 5 minutes to show off their crown jewels? I think that would be pretty eye-opening.

• Breakfast events: there's a lot going on at night in our tech culture; how about doing things in the morning? I'd love to get a "software breakfast" going where developers could get together and show off their work, exchange war stories, etc.


This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location: baltimoresun.com/balttech
Posted by Liz Hacken at 7:00 AM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Big Ideas, Entrepreneurs & Risk Takers, Geeks, Research, Startups
        

Comments

IMO, there are enough "showing off" type of events that really just devolve into empty networking and shilling events. And plus, all startups aren't just looking to talk to VCs.

As a young, first-time entrepreneur, I want a way to directly connect with other entrepreneurs in a non-networking environment, so we can learn from one another, get to know one another, help one another, etc.

This is the best way, IMO, to create a community - from the "bottom" up. Not by filling up a shark tank and have everyone nip at VCs. (Not that you were suggesting this, just saying...)

Nicholas, I totally hear you. I wouldn't pick a VC or demo event as my first choice for biggest impact, but they are things that would help.

In my opinion the easiest to implement, highest impact idea is the "tech breakfast" which I envision to be exactly the occasion you describe. In my vision for it, there wouldn't even be sponsors (and hence no actual food) in order to encourage the maximum amount of entrepreneur-to-entrepreneur contact. My reasoning is that a lot of events I go to have that empty, schilling feeling because there are more service providers than there are actual tech people.

All that said, there is still a lot of room and need for top-down organizing. A lot of these ideas are hard to get off the ground without some institutional support, even if it's just a matter of loaning a meeting space.

Nick, coworking at Beehive Baltimore provides the kind of getting-to-know people opportunities you're looking for. I'd encourage you to get involved.

I agree with you that "empy networking" and "VC access" as goals are not terribly valuable by themselves, but it takes all kinds of events to create a thriving culture.

The most important thing we need, though, is more people to have the courage to step up and get involved. That means quitting high paying jobs, getting off the government job/contractor teat, and contributing to community building.

The most important thing people could do? Quit their jobs and follow their dreams; we can and will succeed together, but only once people choose to follow their passions.

Indeed, so when's the first DC/Balt/NoVa Startup Founders Breakfast?

Nicholas, would you be interested in getting in going? I think it would be pretty cool and would be glad to help.

IMO, what entrepreneurs need are the following 3 things:

1. Easy access to a willing workforce.
2. Mentor and peer groups to act as a safety net.
3. Access to capital.

All of Mike's suggestions achieve one or more of those goals.

The biggest problem that I see facing the Baltimore tech culture right now is how few people are willing to either create a start-up or be involved in one.

I think that if we can satisfy the 3 needs I mentioned, it would provide a sense of relative safety and encourage others that might otherwise be afraid.

I'm curious to hear more about what's "going on at night in our tech culture". I've been here for about 5 years and still feel completely disconnected from anyone else.

TEDx was a great start.

Hi Jason, I recommend you check out Ben's event, Innovate Bmore, on Wednesday night: http://innovatebaltimore.com/

Please also come to the next Ignite on 3/4/10 (http://ignitebaltimore.com)

Ben, I think that about sums it up!

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About Gus G. Sentementes
Gus G. Sentementes (@gussent on Twitter) has been writing for The Baltimore Sun since 2000. He's covered real estate, business, prisons, and suburban and Baltimore City crime and cops. He was one of the first reporters at The Sun to use multimedia tools and Web applications -- a video camera, an iPhone -- to cover breaking news. He hopes to cover Maryland geeks and the gadgets and Web sites they build, and learn -- and share -- something new every day.

Gus has a wife, a young daughter and two feuding cats. They live in Northeast Baltimore.
This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location: baltimoresun.com/balttech
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