Photo via Open Works

Greenmount Avenue-based maker space Open Works is offering entrepreneurs a chance to win a half-year of free workshop time, thousands in cash and a spot in a six-week “business boot camp” to help get their startup off the ground.

The contest, called the EnterpRISE Venture Competition, is taking entries from D.C., Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia-based makers who can best leverage Open Works’ resources to develop their products and prototypes.

Panels of judges will pick the winners over several rounds. The maker who takes home the grand prize gets $10,000 and six months’ worth of free studio and workshop time at Open Works; a runner-up and three runners-up to the runner-up will receive $5,000 and $1,000, respectively, in addition to the same package of workshop and studio time. All winners get six weeks’ worth of workshops and mentoring from business leaders.

Will Holman, executive director of Open Works, said a priority in crafting EnterpRISE was to develop a less industrially exclusive pitch competition compared to others around the city, keeping manufacturers and product designers in mind.

“When we looked at, sort of, the landscape of business competitions in Baltimore, they were only open to specific audiences, i.e. students at a specific university…or they tend to be only tech- or software-focused,” he said. “We wanted to make a competition that is open to anyone, that had lower barriers to entering and that was primarily directed at product-design or manufacturing-based business ideas that could use Open Works to grow.”

Amy Bonitz, president and CEO of the Baltimore Arts Realty Corporation (which developed Open Works in 2016) said in a statement that despite the fact that approximately half of Baltimore firms are minority- or woman-owned, both of those demographics have higher failure rates, greater barriers to obtaining capital and lower lifetime earnings compared to their white, male counterparts.

“What we’re trying to broadcast a little bit is that Baltimore is a majority African-American and majority female city by demographics,” Holman said. “New businesses started by African-American women in particular have seen explosive growth over the past decade across America and across Baltimore City.”

The judge panels will mirror those demographics and are designed to make the process inclusive and equitable, he said. The seven-member panel for the second round of the competition includes Maryland Hispanic Chamber of Commerce president Jorge Castillo, Harbor Launch director Lindsay D’Ambrosio and Ron Williams, formerly dean of Coppin State University’s College of Business.

There’s also a local angle to looking beyond just tech firms. Holman said manufacturing and product-design firms are “more likely to stay and grow and build jobs in Baltimore City, and that’s our goal here ultimately.”

Applications are due by Sept. 8. The top 20 applicants, to be announced Sept. 22, will pitch their ideas to seven judges, and the finalists will again pitch to a second judge panel on Nov. 17.

The Baltimore Development Corporation, TEDCO and the Abell Foundation are funding the competition.

Click here for more info or to access the application.

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Ethan McLeod

Ethan McLeod is a freelance reporter in Baltimore. He previously worked as an editor for the Baltimore Business Journal and Baltimore Fishbowl. His work has appeared in Bloomberg CityLab, Next City and...