Archives For Entrepreneurs

Video by Emily Kimball Pope

In one corner, students pounded a vortex machine, sending rings of air catapulting to the ceiling. Across the room, teenagers struck poses in front of an advanced camera to create blueprints for tiny 3-D prints of themselves.

The Digital Harbor Foundation opened the doors of its technological playground to visitors last week during its 2nd Anniversary Showcase. Enthusiastic students, working to become Baltimore’s next generation of tech professionals and entrepreneurs, greeted more than 200 attendees.

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The next great idea was easier to find than a necktie at TechBuzz2014, a semi-annual event put on by the Mid-Atlantic Venture Association (MAVA) where entrepreneurs, given more to flannel shirts than business suits, pitched their fledgling companies to an auditorium full of venture capital and angel investors.

The event aimed to link investment firms with 20 promising startups seeking about $1 million to $3 million to expand their businesses, hire talent and begin building their products.

Dozens of startups have presented at six similar TechBuzz gatherings since 2010 and 40 percent received venture funding within a year as a result, said MAVA Executive Director Julia Spicer. The growth of TechBuzz over the past four years reflects growth of early and venture-stage investing in the mid-Atlantic. The Baltimore-Washington region is among the most active areas for venture investing in the country, along with California, Massachusetts, New York and Texas.

Venture capital funding in Maryland increased to $663 million in 2013 from $408 million in 2012, according to the MoneyTree Report by PricewaterhouseCoopers and the National Venture Capital Association. The state’s 63 percent growth far outpaced the national average of 7 percent. Maryland is also establishing itself as a major market for early investment, according to a report by the State Science & Technology Institute (SSTI) last month.

That was evident Tuesday at the Bethesda Blues & Jazz Club, a newly renovated Art Deco-era moviehouse, where startups, some of whom who just sold their first product weeks ago, came in search of early “angel” or “Series A” investment. The Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development (DBED) was a co-sponsor of the event. James Keeratisakdawong, Principal with DBED’s Maryland Venture Fund (MVF), co-chaired the committee that reviewed the applicants and selected 20 companies to present.

The startups spanned a wide array of ideas and products, some targeting consumers, others geared to the enterprise market. Companies ranged from Basepair, developer of software to analyze DNA sequencing data, to Brain Sentry, a Bethesda company whose wearable helmet sensors can signal when a youngster in a contact sport needs to be checked for a possible concussion, to LoveThatFit, a “virtual fitting” technology that enables users to try on clothes “virtually” and that aims to improve online apparel shopping. Armed only with slide presentations and “elevator speeches,” the entrepreneurs had four minutes to make a pitch. A countdown clock ensured not a second more. A panel of judges then evaluated them in the venture capital equivalent of “American Idol.”

One judge, MVF Managing Director Thomas S. Dann, observed that many local startups are focused on the hot markets of cybersecurity and cloud computing. But whatever the venture, he said, “we want to see entrepreneurs focused on the problem that the customer is trying to solve and how the ROI [return on investment] they offer can attract that next customer.”

Passion was also important. The judges said they made special note of whether the entrepreneur was motivated by a “pain point” they had experienced while seeking a product or service. One example of that was Mark Olcott, who described his College Park-based company Vitus Vet as a cloud-based network of medical records for pets. He described an example of a dog named Bogey that was brought to an emergency clinic for treatment after being injured. The pet died later that night because it couldn’t tolerate the type of anesthesia administered.

Olcott revealed he was the vet.

“I felt like I got kicked in the stomach,” he said.

Startups also must not overlook the potential competition for what they’re trying to create, said Dayna Grayson, a Partner at New Enterprise Associates, which ranked sixth last year for investments in Maryland, according to a recent Baltimore Business Journal survey. “A lot of presenters today didn’t talk about competitors,” she said. “Many large public companies have few direct competitors. It’s not enough to say you’re going to be among the best of five or six.”

Ultimately, as one investor judge told the entrepreneurs, the proof is in the product: “You get enough customers,” he remarked, “then you don’t need our money.”

The second annual InvestMaryland Challenge is in full swing. If your business is in need of a jump start, check out this site for more information about the national business competition. The Challenge offers applicants free admission to networking events, social media promotion, scoring and feedback from judges, exposure to venture capital firms and angel investors and the chance to compete for more than $600,000 in prizes. Winners of the Life Sciences, IT, Cybersecurity and General Industry categories will each win $100,000 awards. Others will take home smaller grants, incubator space, consulting services and other cash and in-kind prizes. Applications are due by Dec. 6.

Judges include a distinguished lineup of industry leaders and experts in a variety of fields. Meet a selection of judges below.

Meet The Judges:



Robb Doub joined New Markets Venture Partners in 2003. Robb is the lead administrative partner and serves as a board director for eCoast Sales Solutions and Appfluent Technology, and is lead partner or board observer for K2 Global, Kroll Bond Ratings, Navtrak, Three Stage Media, CSA Medical and TidalTV. He also serves on the board of Egeen International and the Conflicts Advisory Board of the off-shore hedge funds.


Daphne Dufresne joined RLJ Equity Partners from Parish Capital Advisors, where she was a Venture Partner managing the direct investment and co-investment program. Formerly, Ms. Dufresne was a Principal at Weston Presidio Capital with $3.4 billion of assets under management. She also served as Associate Director in the Bank of Scotland’s Structured Finance Group. Ms. Dufresne received her B.S. from the University of Pennsylvania and her M.B.A. from Harvard Business School.


Christy Williams Wyskiel is an entrepreneur and investor with 20 years of experience focused on the life sciences and healthcare industries. Previously, Christy was Managing Director at Maverick Capital, an equity hedge fund with $12 billion under management. She co-founded GrayBug, an ophthalmic drug-delivery company. In 2012, Christy joined the Johns Hopkins Alliance, a board charged with evaluating the commercial viability of research projects at JHU.


Frederick J. Ferrer has over three decades of experience in the National Security, Intelligence Community (IC), Homeland Defense and Cyber. Mr. Ferrer holds a Master’s of Science in Strategic Intelligence from the National Intelligence University and serves in a number of leadership capacities, including the Maryland Commission on Cybersecurity Innovation and Excellence; National STEM Consortium Advisory Committee; and Chesapeake Regional Tech Council.


As the Executive Director and President of the Emerging Technology Center in Baltimore, Ms. Tillett is responsible for management of budgetary, administrative, programmatic functions and strategic planning. Prior to joining ETC, Ms. Tillett served as president and co-founder of Immersive 3D, LLC, a technology start-up providing web-based 3D computer gaming solutions for K-20 education and offering contract-based technology services.

See the full list of judges and submit your application on

BALTIMORE, MD (July 29, 2013) – Governor Martin O’Malley today announced that two Maryland tech companies received investments totaling $350,000 through the State’s InvestMaryland program, which was created by Governor O’Malley and the General Assembly to make venture capital investments in promising Maryland startups in high-tech, high-growth fields. The State invested $200,000 in SocialToaster, a Baltimore firm specializing in social media and customer engagement, has been approved for a $200,000 investment and $150,000 in ReelGenie, a new online service based in Silver Spring that creates high-quality videos from a customer’s photos and digital media.

“Supporting our entrepreneurs, startups and small businesses is a top priority for Maryland as we grow our Innovation Economy. Our high-tech entrepreneurs place Maryland at the forefront of innovation and discovery,” said Governor O’Malley. “We’re pleased to make these investments in ReelGenie and SocialToaster, as well as the many others that have benefited from the InvestMaryland program, and we look forward to their future growth and success in our State.”

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Keep up with the latest statewide business and economic developments.


Building security officers shouldn’t feel trapped behind a desk, according to William F. Peel III, CEO of Datawatch Systems. The Bethesda-based company specializes in remote security monitoring for commercial buildings.

Peel’s work with high-rise buildings in New York City recently drew the attention of the New York Times, which featured him in its “The 30-Minute Interview“ series.

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Check back for Q&A profiles on all the competition finalists.

Find MD BIZ News’ profile on Sickweather from March 2012. 

The first-ever InvestMaryland Challenge is down to its final round with just 33 companies competing for more than $300,000 in grants and business services. The final winners will be announced during the Governor’s Cup Awards Ceremony on April 15.

One of the companies, selected out of more than 250 applicants, is Baltimore-based Sickweather, founded in 2012. To find out a little more about this innovative company, we spoke with co-founder and CEO Graham Dodge.

Q. What does Sickweather do, and how would you explain it to the average person?

A. We’re like a Doppler radar for sickness. We’re able to track illness with real-time data that we gather from social networks. We then generate these weather maps related to illness. We can show you now for the first time ever where the flu is going around, where pink eye is going around, or other various viruses.

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Templar Keyboard

Advanced Concepts Research Group offers secure mouses and keyboards.

Check back for Q&A profiles on all the competition finalists.

The first-ever InvestMaryland Challenge is down to its final round with just 33 companies competing for more than $300,000 in grants and business services. The final winners will be announced during the Governor’s Cup Awards Ceremony on April 15.

One of the companies, selected out of more than 250 applicants, is Advanced Concepts Research Group, based in Gainesville,Virginia and Aberdeen, Maryland, founded in 2010. To find out a little more about this high-tech company, we spoke with President and CEO Yasuko Carr and Executive Vice President and CIO Chadd Carr, who also describe themselves as a “dynamic husband and wife duo.”

Q. What does Advanced Concepts Research Group do, and how would you explain it to the average person?

Yasuko: We are a certified minority and woman-owned small business. ACRG offers expertise in information technology research and development and formal test and evaluation of information and intelligence-based systems. Our goal is to provide a broader range and more robust set of cyber threat intelligence tools essential for building a more secure cyberspace. ACRG’s Security Sciences Laboratory seeks to reduce future cyber security issues through the research of root causes of modern cyber security deficiencies, fostering open collaboration and integration of emerging knowledge, and expediting time-to-market of technologies, standards, and requirements.

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Maryland incubator map

Maryland has 27 business incubators.

Looking for a supportive environment for your startup—a low cost space with easy access to educational resources and exposure to investors?

You might consider setting up shop in one of Maryland’s 27 business incubators, designed to support early-stage entrepreneurial companies in fields ranging from medical research to clean energy.

Incubators exist across the state in the following regions:

Find contact and admission information for Maryland incubators here through the Maryland Department of Business & Economic Development.

Do you have a question related to Maryland business? Tell us in the comments.

Find previous DBED Answers posts here.

“Though Maryland has built up one of the most highly-skilled workforces in the nation, too many of our workers lack the skills they need to compete for the jobs in highest demand. The EARN initiative will help us bridge that skills gap by creating employer-driven partnerships with businesses so together, we can grow our State’s economy and ensure that every Marylander has the opportunity to learn and earn.”

earn bill

Maryland workers will benefit from workforce training grants promoted by Gov. Martin O’Malley.

Gov. Martin O’Malley on passage of the EARN bill for worker training grants

 MSNBC JJ Ramberg

MSNBC’s JJ Ramberg is planning to present a free lecture in Baltimore on April 9.

Looking to transform your small business? JJ Ramberg, the longtime host of MSNBC’s “Your Business,” may offer some ideas.

On April 9, at 500 West Baltimore St. in Baltimore, the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law is sponsoring a free book signing and lecture featuring Ramberg. Starting at 4:30 p.m., she plans to sign copies of her bestselling book, ”It’s Your Business: 183 Essential Tips That Will Transform Your Small Business.” The lecture, ”An Evening of Entrepreneurship with JJ Ramberg,” is scheduled to begin at 5:30 p.m.

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CarFare Compare is an InvestMaryland Challenge finalist.

CarFare Compare is an InvestMaryland Challenge finalist.

Check back for Q&A profiles on all the competition finalists.

The first-ever InvestMaryland Challenge is down to its final round with just 33 companies competing for more than $300,000 in grants and business services. The final winners will be announced during the Governor’s Cup Awards Ceremony on April 15.

One of the companies, selected out of more than 250 applicants, is Annapolis-based CarFare Compare. To find out a little more about this new company, we spoke with president and founder Alan Stapleton.

Q. What does CarFare Compare do, and how would you explain it to the average person?

A. We have a smart phone app that people can download and use to order a chauffeured service to come pick them up, either immediately or a month from now, whether you’re planning a wedding or going out of town or something else like that.

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