Betamore, a startup incubator in smartly designed space in Federal Hill, is only three years old, yet in that time its member startup firms have raised more than $25 million in venture capital.
All 54 desks set aside for startups are occupied and the nonprofit is beginning to outgrow its 8,000-square-foot space with chalkboard walls and a coffee bar on Light Street, though there aren't any plans to relocate in the immediate future.
"We're at the point right now where we just want to make sure that we're doing it at the right time and with the right partner," said Betamore CEO Jen Meyer.
Meyer, who started the job in January, is leading the next stage for Betamore, which converted to a nonprofit during its recent merger with gb.tc — the former Greater Baltimore Technology Council. She's increasing the size of the advisory board (already nearly 50 members), selling paid memberships that give outside firms and individuals access to Betamore events and classes, and expanding the educational offerings — once mostly focused on web development.
Betamore currently has 37 companies with more than 90 employees working within its walls. The startups include Kinglet, a sort of Airbnb for office space and desks; cybersecurity firm ZeroFOX; and STAQ, an ad tech company that recently won a $100,000 grand prize in the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development's InvestMaryland Challenge business competition.
Meyer, who coaches a CrossFit strength and conditioning class in her spare time, recently answered a few questions from The Baltimore Sun.
Betamore recently announced an expansion. What are you doing?
I don't know if I would refer to it as an expansion. We talked about our third year and what we've changed. We've changed some of the pieces of Betamore. We're an 8,000-square-foot campus, and that has not changed. What we've expanded is outside of these four walls, our community membership, and that's really what the expansion is based off of.
We kind of have it focused on three areas. We have our co-working space — that's staying the same. Our incubation space is full; we actually do not have enough space. The co-working space, we actually only have three spaces available. So from that perspective we're doing really well. Things have been very good on that front.
Then we've done education in the past. I'm sure you've probably heard of Betamore Academy and the other short-form courses that we do. And one of the things that we've done over the past few months is we've basically retooled that entire education platform, and so we have a full year's worth of programming mapped out, and in addition to that we've actually included pathways that are part of the entire education curriculum.
So depending on where you are when you come in and want to take courses, if you want to just take one course in a particular area or subject matter, you can do that. But if you're interested in say, learning more about web development or back-end web development, we can give you a great pathway now that can show you how to get toward that competency.
The third piece is the new community piece. Betamore already did community efforts, but we've literally formalized it. So we actually have a community membership so that we can tie in what the [Greater Baltimore Technology Council] did before. They had done some really great things in Baltimore to support tech and innovation. What we've done is we've looked at what those things are and basically pulled them over here. So we're going to have a launch of Tech Night in the coming years, and we're going to look at the programming, events and activities that really bring people in the community together.
And in addition to that we've also offered educational discounts on other business services for members of the community. But at the end of the day our whole goal is to build the companies, drive the talent, help incorporate funding and opportunities for them, and make that happen here in Baltimore.
The last piece of the community is our advisory board, which you've probably heard a lot about it, but it's probably 48 people right now — senior, established business leaders from all walks of life.
Within the company side, in terms of supporting and driving the companies, we really work on what are the needs that they have at the current moment, and it's different for every company. The majority of these companies are early-stage, but we do have some that are already moving along and are profitable and have shown really great growth. It depends on where they are, but we literally sit down with them and walk through their business plan, what are they working on. Are they looking at fundraising? Where are they in terms of their product life cycle? What do they need to develop? Is it helping them to make connections?
We have two companies that came down from New York City, the majority of the folks from the companies did not know a lot of people in Baltimore. We want to make sure that, when they land here, they are immediately meeting people they can work with, that can help support the growth of their business. Our whole goal is to help drive those efforts. On the community side, we are building the membership to help drive community and innovation here in Baltimore.
What are your long-term goals for Betamore?
It seems like there are a lot of people who would like us to expand physically, and it's obviously something we've talked about, but we also want to make sure it's at the right time. I want to make sure that the three things that we're doing currently are running really smoothly so that when and if we do expand, we are ready to do that in a very meaningful way. Right now what we're doing in terms of expansion, we partnered with local companies to host some of our educational offerings. We're limited here because we only have two classrooms, so it's tough when you're scheduling and managing that. A lot of our classes do meet in person and we'd love to get an opportunity to get outside of the Betamore four walls and see what's going on in the rest of the city. We're also looking at doing more virtual courses so people can learn at their own speed, at their own time, where and when they want to.
Can you tell me what the startup scene is like in Baltimore?
It's changed a lot. I've been in it for a long time — I started my career in early-stage technology, and this was back in the '90s when everything was new, but there was a lot of froth, too. People who had companies that didn't necessarily have business plans. I think what we have now is a full-on industry sector that has developed into new areas, whether it's biotech, health care, IT, cybersecurity, education technology. And technology is part of all of that. So we use the broad-brush, probably overused term "innovation." That's what we're looking for.
For us, we see Baltimore as a great opportunity and a great place to build these companies. You can live here very easily and it's very easy to meet and connect with people here, whereas if you're in a larger city that can be more challenging. We have all the resources of large cities, we have all the culture, the arts, the facilities, all those things, so it's a great place to be for that. In addition, millennials love Baltimore, and they're our largest growing workforce, and that's what we're going to need, to be able to support that type of lifestyle for the people that are here. And I think Baltimore's doing that.
I heard you do CrossFit.
I've been a CrossFit coach for five years. I have done CrossFit for seven years, and I absolutely love it. It's one of my favorite things. It combines physical activity, which I enjoy, in addition it's a great stress relief, and I've made tremendous friendships through doing it. And I like the coaching aspect, too, it's a lot of fun. I normally do 6 a.m. [sessions], and we have anywhere from eight to 20 people in the class.