Big Fish Q&A with Greater Baltimore Tech Council Exec Director Jason Hardebeck

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In a tech-world version of the cheekily amusing 1959 British film The Mouse That Roared — wherein the teeny-weeny fictitious Duchy of Grand Fenwick declares war on the U.S. with the intention of losing and then receiving a massive infusion of foreign aid from the victor, just as America sent gobs of cash to Germany as part of the Marshall Plan after World War II 

— Jason Hardebeck’s two-person, Baltimore-based social-networking software-application development company WhoGlue sued online behemoth Facebook in 2009 for “patent infringement,” settled amicably in 2010, and, finally, in a brilliant denouement, sold itself in November to the social-networking powerhouse.

Hardebeck did not pause to gloat. A week after announcing the WhoGlue deal, he accepted the post of executive director of the Greater Baltimore Technology Council, fairy godmother to the local tech community. Hardebeck declared upon his appointment that “the GBTC has tremendous potential to develop into a leading organization to help entrepreneurs and local companies accelerate the commercialization of their products and ideas.”  

Born in Great Falls, Montana, and raised in that town and Hawthorne, Nevada, Hardebeck graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1987 with a degree in mechanical engineering, and then served as a surface warfare officer and nuclear engineer until 1992. Discharged from the Navy, he earned his master’s in business from Johns Hopkins University in 1996.

Since then, Hardebeck has worked in product marketing, business development, and plant management for a handful of firms, notably Black & Decker and renewable energy company Ze-Gen. He launched WhoGlue in April 2000. Additionally, he spent a year as entrepreneur-in-residence at the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development (2005 to 2006), and, as executive director, guided the Maryland Business Council from 2006 to 2009. 

Married for 21 years to Karen, his college sweetheart, Hardebeck, 46, lives with her and their two kids, 15-year-old Nick and 13-year-old Ally, in Phoenix — the one in Baltimore County, not the capital of Arizona.

Sum up your life philosophy in one sentence.      

Don’t be afraid of death, but be terrified of not living.

When did you define your most important goals, and what are they?

That is a work in progress and depends on the context. Right now, my primary goal is to make sure that my kids are prepared to create a career that allows them to pursue their passion, and not just get a job that pays the bills. It also means that they understand how they create value and generate income sufficient to support the life they choose to live. That may very well mean that they will found their own startup, so I figure I have eight years, max, to do whatever I can to help make Baltimore the best place in the world to start and grow a business. My kids are Baltimore Salmon, which means that they were born here, and even if they leave for college or a career, inevitably they will return someday. When they do, we need to be ready for them.

What is the best advice you ever got that you followed?

This is going to sound bad, but nothing comes to mind. However, I’ve gotten loads of great advice that I haven’t followed and wished I had.

The worst advice, and did you follow it? Or how did you muffle it?

Nothing specific, other than the theme of “don’t rock the boat” or “conform.” Typically I don’t follow that kind of advice, with mixed results.

What are the three most surprising truths you’ve discovered in your lifetime?

1. Actions always trump beliefs.

2. Mistakes are responsible for all progress.

3. Persistence makes up for a lot of deficiencies

What is the best moment of the day?

There are lots of bests; if I had to pick one, it would be when I see my kids first thing in the morning.

What is on your bedside table?

A clock radio and Kleenex. Oh, and the latest intellectually stimulating tome from what’s-their-name about that incredibly interesting concept that everyone will be talking about someday soon.

What is your favorite local charity?

Baltimore Station. I’m a fan of our military and our veterans, and organizations that provide a path for someone to get better and build a new life for themselves.

What advice would you give a young person who aspires to do what you are doing?

Don’t ever let not knowing how to do something stop you from trying, and make sure that you truly believe in what you do. Sometimes that is the only thing that will keep you going. Learn how to ask really good questions, and, more important, listen to the answer.

Why are you successful?

I don’t think of myself as successful yet, because I’m not done yet. There are some signs that I’m part of something successful — mainly, when you meet my kids. (I can only take partial credit for that — something less than 49 percent.) I do think I have some qualities that contribute to successful efforts I have been a part of: divergent thinking, innate curiosity, persistence, and a willingness to speak my mind.

Cite the most critical issue facing the GBTC. How do you plan to solve that problem?

The biggest issue facing GBTC is an apparent disconnect between the value of the product we offer and the cost. We are fundamentally rethinking how we create and deliver that value to better support the needs of the tech ecosystem in the Baltimore region.

You graduated from the Naval Academy and subsequently served as a naval officer. What valuable life lesson did that experience teach you?

There are too many to list, but one that resonates with me is the fact that if you don’t believe in the mission, you will ultimately fail.

In the occasional moments when you disconnect from your computer, your mobile device, and all of the various social media, which non-IT activity gives you the greatest satisfaction? Why? 

In the summer, it’s gardening and yard work; in the winter, it’s woodworking and home-improvement projects. Both activities are tied to nature and working with my hands, and both give me a sense of accomplishment that I can achieve through my own efforts and in a finite timespan. We don’t always get to experience that in our day-to-day work environment with so many factors beyond our control.



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