Startup Maryland has been well received during its early years. That doesn’t mean Mike Binko wasn’t up for prompt consideration of some updates that will make it better.
On that note, Binko, the organization’s founder and president, has announced that the current edition of the event would include 2015 Entrepreneur Bootcamp, a series of mentor-coaching sessions led by entrepreneurs, for entrepreneurs.
The bootcamp, themed “Raise Your Game,” will start in July and will consist of a four-month educational program that emphasizes the critical components of building successful companies. Topics will include the following:
- CEO 101: How to be a strong startup leader
- Pitch Perfect: Best practices when pitching your company
- Virtualizing Your Company: A lean startup approach
- Raising Capital and Exit Roadmapping
The bootcamp was created “after feedback was received” following Startup Maryland’s last Pitch Across Maryland tour and celebration, said Binko, during which entrepreneurs boarded the organization’s colorful bus at several locations statewide to film their 3- to 5-minute ideas for startups and products.
The venture, a community development initiative launched out of the Startup America Partnership, works to connect innovation communities and rallies entrepreneurs, supporters and other innovation stakeholders around four main initiatives: connection, celebration, coaching and capital.
Initially, Startup Maryland introduced entrepreneurs giving pitches to seasoned entrepreneurs or investors during the tour, but Binko and company decided to pursue mentoring and coaching on a deeper level.
“We tried to have entrepreneurs meet other entrepreneurs while they’re getting ready to pitch on the bus,” he said. “But they have their mind on doing their pitch and getting it right. Things don’t necessarily stick during five minutes with an angel investor telling you what to do with a pitch. We decided to do a boot camp over a longer period of time.”
Importance of Mentors
Shahab Kaviani is Startup Maryland’s first entrepreneur-in-residence. His role is to connect innovation communities to rally entrepreneurs, supporters and other innovation stakeholders around Startup Maryland’s main initiatives, while also bringing together entrepreneurs in a community of support to drive greater economic outcomes.
Prior to joining Startup Maryland, Kaviani started a company called CoFoundersLab to provide the Maryland entrepreneur community with a free way to find a co-founder/business partner. The result is widely acknowledged as the Match.com for founders of startup businesses.
“While CoFoundersLab was my second startup, it was the first one for which I was the CEO, and I was responsible for funding and many legal matters,” he said. “I relied heavily on my mentors for coaching, some of which later became formal advisers to the company.”
Kaviani is pleased that Startup Maryland is expanding its mentoring capabilities. “Experienced CEOs who have raised capital, know how to protect the founder’s interest and know the best practices on forming and managing my board of directors were extremely valuable on my journey,” he said.
He recalled how important mentoring was during his journey as an entrepreneur. “When building CoFoundersLab, I knew very little about matching technologies for social networks,” he said. “So I recruited the former CTO from Match.com, who was invaluable to informing our product.”
A young company called “withthefilm” — which caters to filmmakers, soundmakers and photographers — filmed and produced pitches from the Startup Maryland tour.
Mike Venezia, cofounder of “withthefilm,” said he gets caught up in the excitement of the entrepreneurs giving the pitches. “What’s exciting about every pitch is that everybody thinks their idea will be the next big thing,” he said.
Venezia also said he sees firsthand the power of belonging to an entrepreneurial community. “The human connection is excellent,” he said. “Startup Maryland is a mentoring community. I’ve met very few people through the network who have given me negative advice.”
Last Year’s Winner
The 2014 winner of Pitch Across Maryland was Vheda Health, a Columbia-based company that offers digital medicine, combined with personalized mobile health programs. By automating care plan compliance, Vheda saves health insurance plans and self-funded employers an estimated $15,000 per prevented hospitalization.
Vheda’s flagship product is Leap, a personalized mobile intervention that engages individuals with weekly video visits from a dedicated Vheda Health coach, real-time compliance monitoring and a focus on overcoming psychosocial barriers. The company is a resident at the Maryland Center for Entrepreneurship.
“As part of the incubator, we are continuously tuned in with the entrepreneurial events going on throughout the state,” said Shameet Luhar, founder of Vheda Health.
Luhar heard about the pitch competition, and “given that we are in heath technology, which tends to be underrepresented in the state, we decided to give it a go. Things turned out really well — because we ended up winning. There was quite a bit of positive press as a result of that.”
Tracy Turner, the new director of the Howard Tech Council, said she was pleased that Vheda Health received the recognition. “We are always looking for ways to celebrate entrepreneurial strength and looking for ways to get their names out,” she said.