Baltimore's first accelerator class ready to graduate; one company heads to San Francisco

How time flies.

Just last year, many of us in the Baltimore technology community were talking about whether our city needed an accelerator program. The Emerging Technology Center, with the help of the Abell Foundation, stepped up and provided one.


The first class of four companies graduate tomorrow. And one of the graduates, NoBadGift.com, is moving out to San Francisco for three months to be a part of the NewMe accelerator program. Great news for that team of three entrepreneurs.

The Demo Day for Accelerate Baltimore's first graduate class is tomorrow (Wed, July 25), at 5:30 pm at the ETC Canton.


Here are the companies that will present, to a crowd of more than 70 people (wow!)

* Flying Pig Digital NewsUp.me: A website and mobile app for exploring/sharing news by providing a game-like experience with real rewards.

* Hooopla (now Kithly): A mobile app that facilitates the process of organizing social activities among friends and allowing merchants to offer group discounts.

* NoBadGift.com: A crowd sourced web application for both personal and charitable gifts

* Unbound Concepts: A proprietary machine learning algorithm designed to read text and "level" books by reading level

I interviewed McKeever Conwell II, co-founder of NoBadGift, recently about his and his cofounders' planned move to San Francisco for three months. As part of the NewMe accelerator, Conwell and his buddies will move into a house with other NewMe accelerator members, and presumably live/eat/breathe their startups for three months in this little community.

Conwell equated his experience over the last six months as hopping aboard a rocket ship.

"We're just trying to ride this out," Conwell said. "I'm very excited for what's going to happen in the next three to six months."

If you recall, I wrote about Conwell and NoBadGift back in January, after watching him join the growing Baltimore Tech Facebook group and suggesting a "practice your pitch" meetup. When Conwell joined that group, it had over 600 members. Six months later, it has more than 1,300.

So, what will happen to Conwell and partners Sam Henry and Michael Washington if they move to San Francisco? Will they come back to Baltimore after they're done with NewMe. Conwell isn't sure.

"We'll probably come back, but that's not guaranteed," Conwell said.

The terms of the Accelerate Baltimore program were if you take their investment ($25,000), you have to stay in Baltimore for five years. Conwell said there's always a possibility they'll stick around in California to network with West Coast investors for a time, but still be based out of Baltimore.

So what did Conwell and friends learn from Accelerate Baltimore? He and his team are great technical developers, but he realized they needed major marketing help. The Accelerate Baltimore program helped them develop their marketing strategy. They built a Facebook app, for instance (which is quite good, btw). And Conwell says they're more confident than ever that they're in the right market with their product.


"Our experience in the marketplace is, we didn't know how to market, we didn't know how to attract users," Conwell said. "And Accelerate Baltimore has helped us out with that."

Mind you, by late last year, Conwell told me they were ready to throw in the towel on NoBadGift. But he decided to get more involved in the Baltimore tech community, joined the Facebook group, and put his company on a runway for a sharp period of growth this year.

Since joining the Facebook group, "it's been off to the races," Conwell said. "We made a lot of connections, a lot of meetings. Baltimore's been great.  A lot of people in the community have helped us out alot."

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