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New Baltimore-based organization aims to shape city into nation’s first ‘Equitech’ city

A new Baltimore-based startup organization aims to provide mentorship, networking, educational tools and resources for technology entrepreneurs who anchor their companies in the city.

UpSurge will target startups and businesses focused on using technology to improve equity, said Jamie McDonald, the group’s CEO. Founders who are women and people of color also will be a focus of recruiting.

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She said UpSurge will demonstrate to innovators the “real benefit” to being located in Baltimore, and facilitate investment in their companies.

“Imagine if you buy a plot of land, and you have this amazing location, and amazing potential, but you have to design the house and build the house and till the land,” said McDonald, a former Deutsche Bank investment banker and entrepreneur. “Baltimore is this fertile ground. There’s a lot here and a lot of people that have built some of the pieces. This is the chance to bring it all together into one focused movement.”

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The UpSurge team coined the term “Equitech,” which they envision as the framework for the organization and for Baltimore’s future business community. Under this concept, the innovation economy would be inclusive, diverse and both mission- and profit-driven, McDonald said.

She said other tech hubs around the country have become exclusive with their high cost of living and lack of diversity. Baltimore, she said, could eliminate those barriers by leaning on existing companies and recruiting and developing new ones.

Baltimore has attracted a number of startup tech companies whose founders say the city is affordable, close to other East Coast hubs and home to both big and small businesses. South Baltimore, in particular, has its eye on luring more cyber companies in a vision dubbed “Cyber Town USA” at Port Covington.

A number of public and private partners have already committed funds and advisory support to UpSurge, including Brown Advisory, the Johns Hopkins University, the University of Maryland, Towson University, T. Rowe Price Group and the Abell Foundation, among others.

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UpSurge declined to say how much has been raised, but a spokesperson said supporters to date have funded more than half of the organization’s three-year goal since they began raising money in January. Those dollars will support operational costs and direct investment in startups.

Supporters include both investors and philanthropic grantors.

The company also is partnering with TechStars, a national accelerator known for its selective reputation among applicants. UpSurge is funding a Baltimore TechStars program for 10 companies each year in hopes of luring them to the city.

Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott said smart public and private investment and the “Equitech” vision can move the city into the forefront of the tech economy.

“Their work builds on my commitment to Baltimore entrepreneurs and small businesses by nurturing the development of high-growth tech startups that are fundamental to the advancement of 21st century cities,” Scott said in a statement.

UpSurge participants will be sectioned off into “community teams” led by local experts in academia, industry, neighborhoods and technology to support budding companies. It hopes to include leaders from companies in life sciences, digital health, finance, cyber, climate and data science.

“We want to make sure founders and executive teams have access to the right input at the right time,” McDonald said.

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