A survey by the Innovation Alliance found that a vast majority of participants in Baltimore's technology community are interested in a "hub" — akin to similar spaces in New York City and San Diego — that could be used for meetings, conferences and continuous education and networking for entrepreneurs.
That and other findings in a report released Monday are among the early results of an effort by the Innovation Alliance, funded with a $75,000 grant from the philanthropic Abell Foundation, to improve the environment for new-business formation in Baltimore.
The alliance is led by attorney Newt Fowler and entrepreneur Jason Pappas, who is also chairman of the Greater Baltimore Technology Council. In addition to a survey of more than 170 people, the alliance held a town hall meeting in March to solicit feedback from more than 100 people on new ideas for Baltimore's innovation community.
"We will have failed if we don't fundamentally accelerate how businesses are formed in this town," said Fowler. "Can you move the needle in new business formation?"
The survey, conducted by Facility Logix of Burtonsville, found that 85 percent of respondents would use a hub in Baltimore if one were created. People were interested in a hub that could be used for meetings, mentoring, educational programming and space for other activities, the survey found.
The survey comes on the heels of a report issued last week by the Brookings Institution and funded by the philanthropic Annie E. Casey Foundation, which called on the Baltimore region to re-think economic development and focus on export and innovation industries, including information technology.
In recent years, similar hubs have been launched across the country. But many are focused on helping entrepreneurs and innovators in their earliest stages of development. Fowler hopes the Innovation Alliance and the tech community can create a hub that also supports late-stage and established technology companies.
Fowler said that the alliance has identified a 35,000-square-foot building — a shuttered trolley repair facility dating from the 1890s off Central Avenue in Southeast Baltimore — that could be home to a hub. He noted its proximity to the expanding Harbor East area and to technology companies in Canton, including the Emerging Technology Center incubator. Another possible space for the hub could be in the Charles Village or Station North neighborhoods, the report said.
He envisioned a model for the technology community similar to what the Creative Alliance has built in Highlandtown for the creative arts community, in the former Patterson theater. The Creative Alliance provides space for artists, exhibitions and educational programming, and a theater for performances.
Robert A. Embry, president of the Abell Foundation, said he was optimistic based on the Facility Logix report that the Innovation Alliance could create a hub that was valued by Baltimore's technology community.
But he said there was still more work to be done, including figuring out how to sustain the effort in terms of revenue and working with the community to respond to their needs.
"It's up to the innovation community to decide what needs to be done," said Embry.
The next step is for the Innovation Alliance to explore revenue and sustainability options — if a hub were created, the group would need to figure out a way to pay the bills and pay for programs, said Fowler. The report also recommended that the Innovation Alliance engage other key stakeholders, such as the mayor's office, the Baltimore Development Corp., and the Emerging Technology Center.
The Innovation Alliance project is one of several efforts to bolster the city's entrepreneurial ecosystem. The Emerging Technology Center, for years the de facto hub of the city's startup community, recently launched a business accelerator with a handful of fresh companies. The accelerator's goal is to help entrepreneurs with little more than an idea launch a product and start a business in a short amount of time.
Another effort, called Betamore, is creating a small campus in South Baltimore that will be home to business incubation, community resources, and entrepreneurship education for the city's startup community.
Betamore is led by Greg Cangialosi, who sold his business, Blue Sky Factory, last year; Sean Lane, co-founder of Baltimore-based BTS LLC, a defense contractor; and Mike Brenner, an entrepreneur and technology community advocate in Baltimore.
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