Startup Scene: Meet Mike Brenner, Baltimore Entrepreneur
One might not expect much from a self-proclaimed easily distracted tech nerd who harbors dreams of running a food truck someday soon, but Mike Brenner
isn't your typical geek. In fact, at 27, the entrepreneur is poised to make waves that traverse the social, technological, and political fabric of Baltimore.
"I'm very interested in connecting everybody, meeting new people who have a business idea, and saying, 'alright, let me see if I can come up with an idea to help you go to the next level,'" Brenner says. "Maybe it'll come back and help me out too. That's really where my passion lies."
Originally from Salisbury, Brenner attended George Washington University in Washington, D.C., at first on a pre-med track. But after recognizing that a natural ability with web design and development could potentially turn into a suitable career, he switched majors. Brenner graduated with a degree in computer science in 2006, already with a number of clients under his belt.
Despite a desire to move to the West Coast, Brenner moved into a house in Baltimore with his twin brother and their friends. He says it quickly became clear that Charm City was an ideal location for the path he wanted to take.
"When I think of Silicon Valley, I think of Facebook, Google, and these huge companies," he says. "But I don't want to compete with these companies. I want to create new things. And I don't think I can do that as well out there that I can do here. So that's what really attracts me to Baltimore."
Working by himself out of coffee shops, Brenner grew his web consulting and development studio Sunrise Design. He estimates that he takes on about six to eight clients a year and helps them turn their ideas into reality.
It was while he was working out of coffee shops and his home that he noticed a need for a different kind of working community in Baltimore. Having approached other coffee shop regulars, he developed a network of other web professionals with similar interests and began Refresh Bmore
, a group that now includes about 60 people who meet up to share and discuss different industry ideas.
Building on his inherent networking abilities, in 2009 Brenner became a founding member of Beehive Baltimore
, a space where independent entrepreneurs and freelancers can work. Located in Canton's Emerging Technology Center, an incubator for small businesses, the Beehive provides an alternative to working from home or the local coffee shop, isolated options that can be riddled with distractions.
Available to professionals for different membership rates, the Beehive is part of the larger coworking movement, which brings together independent workers who can share ideas and stimulate creative energy. It's here where Brenner works and also where he got his next big idea.
"I build products and companies," he says. "And I tell people I feel like a surrogate mother. I create these babies inside of me and then I give them to the client. I'm like, 'here, you be successful with this but I can't tap into that, because you contracted me to do this and that's that.'
"So I've got this bug in me that's like, 'you should be building your own products yourself. You can sell them and you can focus all your time into that.' I guess since December of last year I've been intrigued by that concept and not really noticing a very connected young startup culture here in Baltimore."
There was only one thing to do.
When Brenner needed a professional network, he created Refresh Bmore. When he needed a place to work, he helped found Beehive Baltimore. So when he needed support for his own startup ideas, he created Startup Baltimore
Brenner began organizing monthly breakfast clubs at Langermann's across from the ETC. He brings speakers in to discuss their experiences in launching their own businesses.
On April 15-17, Brenner and Startup Baltimore gathered about 120 entrepreneurs for Baltimore Startup Weekend. Over the course of the weekend, participants discussed problems and pitched solutions in the form of mobile and social networking applications.
"Those are the things that motivate me here in town," Brenner says. "This is the typical guy in me I guess, but when I see people complaining about issues, I'm like, 'how can we solve that as quickly as possible?' My girlfriend hates this. Most people will tell you this is not a good trait. When I hear problems I say 'can we try to solve this in a weekend? Can we do this in a week?'"
A good trait or not, it's a quality that has perhaps unlimited positive potential effects on the community. Brenner says he hopes to build a better line of communication between he and his colleagues and the area's colleges in order to avoid losing fresh, young talent to other cities upon graduation.
He also sees political potential.
"It would be great if [the city government] were behind more of our efforts," Brenner says. "Especially since a lot of our efforts are here to better the city and make it a place to come live, which in effect makes it a greater place to come work, which in effect builds the economy. I would really enjoy it if the city didn't think of us as such like a bunch of nerds that are doing geeky projects but could really leverage our technical abilities to help them, take some of the weight off their shoulders."
But in the meantime, Brenner continues to churn out ideas and create innovative solutions. Silicon Valley's loss is Baltimore's gain, and Brenner wouldn't have it any other way.
"Baltimore is blue-collar, but it still has its city vibe," he says. "People drink cheap beer, they're proud of their sports teams here, but you also have this city that can really be a great proving ground for a potential market business idea, whatever it is. ... You can really test that here in Baltimore, which is great.
"And this city loves embracing new people. I've noticed this across the board, whether it's new musicians or new artists or just new people in general, it's 'what are you doing? How can we help you? How can we grow you? How can we promote you?' That mentality was here before I came. I just tapped into that and said I'd much rather be in Baltimore."Staci Wolfson is a Baltimore-born,
NYU-educated writer and editor based in Charm City. In addition to
BmoreMedia, you can read her writing on Patch.com and her Just for Kicks & Giggles soccer blog.
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Photos by Arianne Teeple:
- Entrepreneur Mike Brenner
- Mike Brenner's Sunrise Design Company - courtesy of Mike Brenner
- Entrepreneur Mike Brenner
- Startup Weekend - courtesy of Mike Brenner
- Mike Brenner speaks at Startup Weekend - courtesy of Mike Brenner