Spark Reception

As any self-respecting capitalist knows, startups are the secret sauce of successful economies. They provide innovation in industries that have become stale; they seek out gaps in the market place and fulfill them; and now they use technology to accomplish their goals. The public perception about startups reads from a logline of Silicon Valley or The Social Network—we’ve been treated to years of 20-something college dropouts becoming the faces of billion dollar companies while the rest of the startup world angles to raise more money for their passion project.

Those projections of startup culture, however, are so Silicon Valley. In Baltimore, our startup scene isn’t nearly as glamorous or big, but it’s growing rapidly and reinvigorating the city in the process. According to a report by CBRE, Baltimore’s tech talent pool grew by 42 percent between 2010 and 2013. Only San Francisco and the San Francisco Peninsula reported a faster growth rate than Baltimore—and by only 2% more.

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The growing community may be rising through the ranks, but it still faces challenges. While venture capital investment in Maryland companies picked up last quarter to reach $137 million, Baltimore’s capital infrastructure is not yet as connected as established tech hubs like San Francisco. Len Markidan, a former founder of Overstat turned Baltimore startup champion, said to Baltimore, “The cash pool for software startups isn’t nearly as big here, and “raise more money” isn’t a viable long-term growth strategy.

Companies are forced to think like businesses that is, figure out how to make money—a lot earlier, and that’s a very good thing.” Baltimore’s growing startup community has its own distinctive charm-ing vibe where startups seek collaborators as “co-workers.” As the city develops its own culture and community, many of these businesses are centralizing in a few hotspot locations. Working side-by-side in co-working spaces like Spark, located at Power Plant Live!, these spaces offer collaborative and non-traditional office space that encourages individuals, startups and established businesses to work under the same roof. Within proximity to a number of Baltimore-bred businesses, the growing community at Spark can compare notes with different industry professionals—from education to health IT—that keep service at the center of what they do.

Baltimore is kind of like a small-scale America, gearing towards a service-based economy for a variety of industries, with the startups here are trying to reinvigorate the economy on both a macro and a micro level. emocha, a health IT startup developed by the Johns Hopkins Center for Clinical Global Health Education, for example, remotely monitors whether patients are taking their medication properly to skip in-person visits while still ensuring patients are adhering to their medication regimens all across the US. It’s projected to save millions of dollars over the next few years. Allovue is an education-based resource platform for K-12 schools and districts, which allows for educators and administrators to analyze school budgets, realize trends, and make predictions for future expenditures to save money, which they are in need of.  Elsewhere, Maddrix, a cybersecurity startup with only 12 employees, has been contracted by the NSA to lend a hand with federal cybersecurity.

Besides making enterprise connections, the space at Spark is close to a variety of amenities—which provide a perfect reprieve from a long day at the office. Really, the space isn’t just for work, it’s for collaborating and connecting with likeminded people to make both business and the community better.

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A map of Baltimore’s startups show more service-based tech startups (and who’s hiring) that are directly invigorating the economy of industries on a city-level and potentially a national one. Baltimore’s startup community is one that knows the value of servicing other businesses, which is why it’s cultivating a unique startup culture which focuses less on “how much more money can I raise” and more on “how can I make connections in industry X and Y for my own startup” and “how can my startup be a business now.” By choosing co-working spaces, like Spark, near established companies, Baltimore is carving out its own little tech hub that cuts the gut out of Silicon Valley as a startup community that’s less aggressive, but more in-touch with the real service world.

Spark is Baltimore’s newest and most collaborative co-working space for entrepreneurs, creators and innovators, located within The Offices at Power Plant Live!. Spark is an inspiring work environment, designed specifically with creators in mind and tailored to provide entrepreneurs not just what they want, but what they need. For more information about Spark or to inquire about a membership, please visit Spark online.

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