It was a hazy, end-of-summer September day in downtown Frederick when the most conspicuous Startup Maryland RV pulled up to the offices of Mosaic Power.
A small group gathered at the small business that’s located beside the city’s Carroll Creek Park to celebrate the new-ish company’s progress, from startup to what Founder and CEO Mike Binko calls “the next level,” deeming it “a ramp-up company.”
In the case of Mosaic, the company garnered some funding from power providers, then more from other investors, both of which represent non-traditional avenues of obtaining capital.
And that’s part of the idea. In brief, Mosaic is benefitting from Startup Maryland’s stated mission, which is to promote, nurture, connect and encourage startups so they make the big time — which is worthy of celebration, a photo op and perhaps a write-up in a newspaper.
“Mosaic is a good example of entrepreneurs getting creative in the way they grow and fund their businesses,” said Binko. “It self-funded through early stages, then found non-traditional avenues to acquire its early growth funding.
“The folks at Mosaic have illustrated,” he said, “the hustle that entrepreneurs and founders need to succeed.”
While having that “hustle” is key, Mosaic CEO Laurie Vaudreuil talked about what else startups need while they’re negotiating what they dream will ultimately become a successful journey.
“Organizations like Startup Maryland are critical for reminding potential entrepreneurs what is possible in starting businesses,” said Vaudreuil, pointing out that it’s easy for those involved to be unaware of the local potential and connections. “For example, creating prototypes is becoming less expensive and challenging,” she said, “and local manufacturing is a very realistic option for many products.
“[By] assisting new entrepreneurs in making connections and understanding the realistic needs of starting a business, and in [garnering] support of these businesses, [Startup Maryland] can potentially provide lasting contributions to local and state communities,” she said.
And that’s what Startup Maryland aims to do. It was founded in 2012 as a regional initiative launched via the Startup America Partnership; driven from within the startup community by, and for, entrepreneurs, Startup Maryland is peer-driven and focused on high-growth ventures from all sectors of the business world.
“We’ve always revolved around our four C’s,” said Binko — which are Celebration, Coaching, Curation and Capital — “with programs and initiatives under each of those headlines. The STRT1UP Road Show and the Pitch Across Maryland competition fall under celebration, when, where and with whom it’s needed.”
There are always twists and tweaks with the STRT1UP Roadshow, too. Recently, the new documentary film, “STRT1UP: Venturing Through the Land of Pleasant Living,” was released to promote the economic development effort, “so file that under ‘Celebration,’” too, he said; under “Coaching,” Startup Maryland has been offering the Raise Your Game boot camp, where entrepreneurs learn from other successful entrepreneurs.
“During the STRT1UP Roadshow, we visit new businesses around the state for a month in late summer/early fall,” said Binko, “but we also go back to see these same people throughout the year, during which the area universities, incubators/accelerators and economic development agencies offer us space and office hours to set up. As such, we can be anywhere in Maryland on a moments’ notice or on a regular schedule.
“The various sectors of the business community accommodate us, because we amplify their efforts,” he said, “allowing us to not have to maintain a single headquarters location.”
Two Who Know
Other small state businesses can vouch for how valuable Startup Maryland has been.
Michael Spinosa is CEO of Columbia-based Unleashed Technologies, an 8-year-old entity that has only recently taken advantage of Startup Maryland’s culture. He was on hand in Frederick on that mid-September day.
“Our company engaged with Startup Maryland within the last year,” said Spinosa of Unleashed, which is up to $4 million in annual revenue, “because I appreciate their mission. They have something for everyone, whether you run an established company or if you’re running a new company and you’re looking to hit the ground running. They create a platform so companies can get in front of the people who can help them grow.”
One part of that platform is marketing, which often takes shape via short video clips that feature a company leader and are lensed in the back of the Startup Maryland RV. “In Frederick, we shot a video to create greater awareness of how we’re changing the web landscape, by revolutionizing how we deliver services via what we call ‘wosting,’” he said, which he describes as a synergistic combination of web and hosting to create a more robust experience for clients.
Then there are the smaller companies that have worked with Startup Maryland since day one. “All along the way, they’ve provided a resource and a platform to help direct us toward success,” said Josh Notes, CEO of Greenewit, also of Columbia, “and they’ve gotten us in touch with other companies for successful collaborations.”
For instance, when Greenewit shot its first promotional film in the RV in 2013, Startup Maryland’s ecosystem manager, Mike Venezia, produced “a high quality product at a fair price that generated hundreds of thousands of dollars for us downstream,” said Notes.
Notes said Greenewit was tight on money at that point, “but Venezia shot and edited a great two-minute video about what we do for the schools to save energy, then passed it on to his mother, who works at Dayton Oaks Elementary School. We’ve gone on to show it to tens of thousands of students.”
And without Venezia, Binko and company, that wouldn’t have happened.
“We also wouldn’t have had a chance to make some of the contacts we have without them,” he said. “They’ve introduced us to the founders of AOL and to Kevin Plank, of Under Armour, which was a good learning experience.
“Startup Maryland even flew us out to Arizona,” Notes said, when our Greenewit won the SBA Young Entrepreneur of the Year award in 2011.
Filling the Gap
Startup Maryland has not assisted bwtech@UMBC-based Ridgeback Network Defense “yet,” said President and CEO Steve Rixse, but he has been attending many of its meet-ups and “will be getting involved more down the road.
“Right now, we’re focused on getting customers, and we’re getting good traction for our investors. We have investors on the outside that we’re pitching to with a professional outside consultant as an adviser,” Rixse said. “The alternative would be go with Startup Maryland, and there is great value there. I think Startup Maryland is fantastic, because it cuts across all industries.”
Startup Maryland, he said, “offers companies the opportunity to make cross relationships so small, growing companies can get involved with people who can help them in many ways. I don’t see the other states doing that. We’re lucky to have them.”
Rixse and Binko also said that, while the state of Maryland helps with initial funding via organizations like TEDCO (the state’s Technology Development Corp.), the unavailability of transitional, or “gap” funding, needs to be addressed. Binko said that’s being done.
“We’re solving that gap problem,” said Binko, “and introducing the deal at the right time to both sides is the rubric. We want to find the companies as they come on to the radar. When they’ve been celebrated and coached with us for about a year, they’re often ready for the next two C’s: Curation and Capital.”
As for the success of Startup Maryland, Binko admits that even he didn’t see it coming, at least not to the degree that it has.
“It’s surpassed our expectations,” he said. “We thought if we discovered 500 companies within five years, we would be considered a smash success. But we’re over 1,200, so we now present a legitimate deal flow hub for high growth ventures that are ready for resources from the ecosystem.
The diversity of industry sectors and innovation categories is one value metrice that Startup Maryland has cultivated actively via an inclusive stance with others.
“Together with critical ecosystem partners like the Regional Manufacturing Institute, Under Armour and the Maryland Manufacturing Extension Partnership in manufacturing; and the Cybersecurity Association of Maryland and the Chesapeake Regional Tech Council for Maryland Cyber Day; and the Department of Commerce and TEDCO for rural innovations, the future for Maryland regional economic leadership is white hot,” Binko said.
The Future Is Now
So today Binko and company are taking the next steps related to its core mission’s four “C’s,” particularly Curation and Capital.
“In 2017, we will be unveiling a virtual ‘fluid’ accelerator program that we will be bringing to locations around the state,” he said. “Additionally, we have developed an Angel Academy program to train early-stage investors in how to invest, and do it well,” he said, noting that the first academy was held in August in Annapolis (see The Business Monthly, August 2016). “Early next year, we’ll be working with our 300-plus ecosystem partners to bring Curation and Capital to many locations across the region.
“That’s quite a bit to add to our plate,” Binko said, “but we have the will to kick it up a few notches. We’re already getting it done.”
As for the overall effort that’s being made by Startup Maryland to boost the state’s debatable level of business friendliness, Mike Galiazzo, president of the Regional Manufacturing Institute of Maryland, was direct with his appreciation.
“Startup Maryland has helped existing manufacturers across the state start up new initiatives, and Mike Binko is one of the brightest stars in our state’s constellation of creative visionaries,” Galiazzo said. “[He] and Startup Maryland [are] proof that economic development works well when in the hands of entrepreneurs.
“Startup Maryland gets results, and Mike Binko is a champion,” he said. “What more can be said?”