Entrepreneurial duo plan 'hybrid accelerator' for tech startups

Greg Cangialosi, founder of Blue Sky Factory, is teaming up with Sean Lane, chief executive of BTS Corp., to launch a "hybrid accelerator."

Greg Cangialosi, a Baltimore entrepreneur who sold his email marketing company this year after a 10-year success streak, is hoping to help jump-start the next big startups in Baltimore.

Cangialosi is teaming up with Sean Lane, chief executive of BTS Corp., a fast-growing software company in Locust Point, to launch what they're calling a hybrid accelerator. Their goal: Make small investments in several startups, germinate their own ideas, and help nurture the city's entrepreneurial ecosystem.

"We want to bring in bright people who are running companies, to help give them a shot in the arm," Cangialosi said.

Across the country, startup accelerators such as TechStars and YCombinator serve as boot camps for eager entrepreneurs who seek some money and mentorship to build prototypes and quickly gauge the market for their products.

Typically, those programs support the fledgling companies for a couple of months and then push them back into the startup wilderness.

But Cangialosi and Lane say they want to give the companies they mentor more support.

Baltimore has an incubator, the Emerging Technology Centers in Canton and North Baltimore, but it's geared toward small businesses that already have gained some traction in their markets.

The University of Maryland campuses in Baltimore County and College Park also run incubators, and there are research parks at the University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins University campuses in Baltimore for biotech startups.

But Cangialosi, Lane and others in Baltimore's technology scene are grasping for more opportunities for entrepreneurs hoping to build the next big blockbuster software or Internet company.

We can reach out and touch several entrepreneurs," said Lane, whose business got its start several years ago by building tactical mobile cellular systems that help combat troops easily communicate on the battlefield.

Cangialosi and Lane have signed a lease for a 4,000-square-foot space on Key Highway and plan to open the doors to new businesses early next year.

The structure of their business model is relatively simple. An operating company will run the physical location on Key Highway, and separately, Cangialosi and Lane will raise funds from investors who will be designated as limited partners. The group will make investments ranging from $25,000 to $50,000 in exchange for equity stakes in the companies.

"Let's crawl before we walk, walk before we run," said Cangialosi. "We'll start up with two to three startups and maybe by late next year, we have six or seven."

Lane said the venture probably will take a few years to yield revenues and profits. It's a "long-term play," Lane said — and an investment that could end up yielding benefits for his company and others.

Others are considering similar proposals for physical spaces to help local entrepreneur in the early stages of their businesses.

Mike Brenner, a technology community advocate and organizer, said he is exploring creating a space in Harbor East that would act partly as an incubator for existing companies and partly as a community classroom and urban center for technologists and entrepreneurs.

"Greg's space could potentially feed my space with small companies, and likewise his space could accept some of our teams into their program," said Brenner. "It's a symbiotic relationship that all benefits the city's entrepreneurial ecosystem."

The city's tech community got a wakeup call this year when the winner of a local startup competition that Brenner helped organize left Baltimore for better funding in New York to develop its product.

(The two founders of Parking Panda, winner of Startup Weekend, have since returned to Baltimore. Their smartphone application helps people find parking spots and rent out their own spots.)

Cangialosi teamed up with Lane after they met in October at TechNite, the Greater Baltimore Technology Council's annual party for area businesses. They found that they shared the same ideas about the importance of new business formation, and decided to explore building their own version of an accelerator in Baltimore.

Cangialosi was eager to get into something new after selling his email marketing company, Blue Sky Factory. Cangialosi and Lane hope to pass their experience building companies from scratch on to the entrepreneurs they'll mentor.

Cangialosi took a big risk when he started his business without investors or financing in 2001 during a brutal, post-tech-bubble period.

He has declined to discuss the details of his successful exit from Blue Sky, but the deal sealed a rare accomplishment: striking gold with his first startup.

Since selling the business, Cangialosi has invested in seven technology companies, including several in Maryland, and plans to invest in three more.

Lane said he and Cangialosi are investing their own money to launch their new venture.

"We don't want to be the guys that talk about it all the time, we want to be the guys that do it," said Lane.