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Green Product Placement Prepares for Launch

Baltimore native Beth Bell was inspired to start a new business earlier this year by an online chat at the TED forums with one of her film industry colleagues. That chat led to her new business venture, Green Product Placement.

"I had an interest in the new green economy, but wasn't sure what it was I could do exactly to become part of it, when this idea came to me. Now, I'll be able to take the sum of my career experience to not only promote the types of brands and companies I really believe are our future, but also use media to be able to promote sustainable lifestyles," Bell says.

Green Product Placement aims to place green, sustainable, and locally-sourced products in films. Since the inception of her idea in the spring, Bell has been able to partner with several of her film industry colleagues in the US, UK, and Canada to get the ball rolling. Beth and her team are currently working their industry contacts and searching for products that would fit the bill. Locally-sourced products to raise the believability threshold of a movie's setting will be a part of the stable at Green Product Placement as well.

"The idea behind the local angle is this: not only do we support local entrepreneurs, but they help to 'set the place.' Say you're shooting a film in Toronto, but it's supposed to be Baltimore, what makes it 'seem' Baltimore? Local brands; the type of potato chip bag on the kitchen counter, or coffee they use or beer they drink," Bell continues.

Green Product Placement will be moving into the next stage of its plan, a fundraising drive on indiegogo this fall. The company is looking to complete the final startup phases and fully launch in early 2012.

Writer: Amy McNeal
Source: Beth Bell, Green Product Placement

Capital Studios Offers Startups a Launchpad

The logistics of opening a new business can be tricky. When pursuing the idea to start a venture, entrepreneurs are faced with the choice of keeping overhead low by working from home, or engaging premises to have meeting space. That's where co-working environments like Capital Studios come into the picture.

"I travel a lot and have seen co-working spaces here and there. We wanted something very general that a lot of different groups felt comfortable in," says Mike Morris, a real estate professional who founded Capital Studios with partner Kevin Hollins.

Just opened on Bank Street, Capital Studios in The Tack Factory offers startups and entrepreneurs the opportunity to engage office space that's flexible and still affordable. Their open-plan space features modular work stations, equipped conference rooms, and office equipment. There's no concern for a budding business to get the utilities turned on or furnish an operating space. The decor is minimalist and modern. Work space, including access to conference rooms, can be rented on a daily or monthly basis.

"What this is really geared toward is the person working at a Starbucks who wants to have their mail delivered here, have a meeting, talk to the person sitting next to you," Morris says.

The newly opened facility has the capacity to provide the base for dozens of startup firms and small businesses. There are currently a dozen businesses based at Capital Studios full time. The current crop of small enterprises at Capital Studios has a tech focus. The list of firms calling Capital Studios home includes graphic designers, programmers, foreign currency traders, and members of the staff of the Baltimore division of Citybizlist.

Capital Studios is expanding the facility and will be offering additional work spaces in the near future.

Writer: Amy McNeal
Source: Mike Morris, Capital Studios

Incite Creative Feeds the Startup Market With New Workshops

Incite Creative is offering a new series of workshops designed to help start-ups launch with an understanding of how to position their enterprise for success. Dina Wasmer, President of Incite Creative, saw an opportunity to create positioning workshops that would teach entrepreneurs how to build their brand and position their business themselves rather than relying on a service to do it for them.

"Over the years we've had a number of small businesses or sole proprietors say that they love the process but can't afford it. We have created the 'Positioning Lite' workshops to provide the same information we convey in the full-bodied version, but do so at a lower price-point and just 1.5 hour investment of time. And for those who prefer the autonomy, this format is set up where we provide the tools, teach them how to do it, and they can implement it themselves, which is also appealing to some," says Wasmer.

The Positioning Lite workshops offer entrepreneurs training in forming a brand identity and a position statement for their business. The workshops focus on concepts like communicating your business's unique niche, streamlining and consistently portraying your marketing message, and figuring out ways to have your message heard. The Positioning Lite workshops also offer entrepreneurs the opportunity to connect in a small group setting.

"I think it's a tough time to start a new business. Even established businesses that have a solid reputation are struggling to get contracts signed in a timely fashion and contending with price wars. That's why it's so important that business owners have a solid market positioning that is built on a point of distinction other than price. Someone will always be cheaper, but they won't necessarily be better. Positioning is the art of striking a balance between being unique and being in demand," Wasmer says.

Incite Creative is accepting reservations for Positioning Lite workshops in August and September now.

Writer: Amy McNeal
Source: Dina Wasmer, Incite Creative

JigSaw Marketing Finds Success With Start-ups

JigSaw Marketing began in 2002 as a one-woman operation. Founder Kathy Walsh saw an opportunity in Baltimore's growing startup community. Her Bel Air based company has found success by working with startups and small business clients while growing into a firm that could handle larger operations.

"While working for a larger agency, I felt frustrated that our high hourly rates put our services out of range for many startups and smaller, local businesses -- ironically the people who most need marketing assistance. By opening my own firm with less overhead, I was able to set more affordable rates and have the discretion to further discount fees with the theory that earning a loyal client during the startup phase would pay off in spades as that business grew," Walsh says.

JigSaw Marketing has found success in marketing architects, contractors, and other businesses in the design and building industry. JigSaw also works with Moscow software manufacturer Acronis Inc., Cecil College's Department of Career and Community Education, Gaithersburg biotech startup Noble Life Sciences, Baltimore-based architects Urban Design Group, the Harford Land Trust, and White Marsh accounting and financial services firm WeberMessick.

"I think what sets JigSaw apart is the incredibly high level of responsiveness. One of our greatest strengths lies in our creativity. We try to conceptualize and implement marketing tactics that are thoughtful and stand out from the crowd," Walsh continues.

JigSaw was recently recognized for its work for Baltimore firm Floura Teeter Landscape Architects with a Marketing Excellence award from the Baltimore chapter of the American Marketing Association. That campaign also received a Mayor's Business Recognition Award from Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.

JigSaw Marketing has grown its staff to match its client list. The growing firm is planning to continue adding staff, including an additional account manager, in the next year.

Writer: Amy McNeal
Source: Kathy Walsh & Jessica Dixon Bieber, JigSaw Marketing Solutions

Artist Spoon Popkin Turns Creativity Into Success

Baltimore Artist Spoon Popkin is using her unique perspective on pets and people to create businesses that allow her to pursue her creative passions. Her two endeavors, Popkin's Pet Portraits and Damn Good Doormats, were inspired by her own circumstances, and have allowed the artist to flex her creative muscles while capitalizing on two things that appeal to the consumer market: homes and pets.

"I've been painting my own animals since 1988 for fun. Around 2005 a friend asked me to paint her kitty and I loved it. She was ecstatic and it was a great change from painting humans. Another friend requested a portrait, then another and before I knew it I was in business," Popkin says.

Popkin paints her pet portraits either on-site in the customer's home or through photographs of the client's pet. In addition to using traditional painting styles, the artist also does pet portraits using Japanese sumi ink. Popkin has painted pet portraits for several celebrities, including Jeff Lewis of Bravo TV's "Flipping Out" and Nicole Hollander, author and creator of the syndicated cartoon "Sylvia".

Popkin was inspired to start Damn Good Doormats after a search for a doormat for her newly purchased home turned up too many impersonal examples. Damn Good Doormats offers a variety of pop culture and meme-related doormats.

"I make custom and original doormats to order. I [also] have over 40 designs in stock. Some of the most popular mats are 'The Honey Badger Don't Care', 'The Pride of Baltimore', 'Keys Wallet Cell Phone', Bigfoot, various dogs, cats, and wood grain," Popkin continues.

Writer: Amy McNeal
Source: Spoon Popkin

Scarborough Fair Bed and Breakfast Wins TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence

Scarborough Fair Bed and Breakfast is celebrating. The Federal Hill inn was recently awarded a Certificate of Excellence by travel site TripAdvisor in recognition of their 248 perfect reviews.  

"We are very happy that all of our hard work and genuine care for our guests is noticed and appreciated. Few understand the amount of emotional and physical labor that goes into not just being an innkeeper, but being a good one," says Innkeeper Barry Werner.

Scarborough Fair's Certificate of Excellence from TripAdvisor is also a plum for the Better Baltimore Bed and Breakfasts Association, which  Werner helped to found. The association was established to unite bed and breakfast owners in the city to create promotions and draw attention to Baltimore's growing bed and breakfast scene. With the addition of the award to Scarborough Fair, five of the seven inns in the association have now received Certificates of Excellence from TripAdvisor.

"I think this award will help us to get many more reservations in the upcoming year. With so many of our association's members winning as well, it shows that our group of B&Bs are literally offering some of the very best accommodations available," Werner says.

Currently, Scarborough Fair is beginning planning and promotions for their annual "Scarecation Celebration" in October, celebrating haunted history and attractions in Baltimore.

Writer: Amy McNeal
Source: Barry Werner, Scarborough Fair Bed and Breakfast

20 North Connects US Manufacturers with Growing Markets in India

As emerging consumer markets in Asia continue to heat up, US manufacturers are seeking new ways to get their goods into the hands of overseas consumers. Companies like 20 North are establishing a niche that facilitates the process. 

"Let's face it; there is a shrinking market for many consumer products in the US due to the economic downturn. We all need to look overseas for new customers and many of them find the products and brands we enjoy highly attractive," says 20 North Managing Director Richard Palarea.

20 North aims to provide a pipeline to the emerging consumer market in India by providing manufacturers of US consumer goods with a marketing, distribution, and supply chain that allows them to sell their products to the Indian market without having to establish their own sales and distribution presence.

The company allows consumers in India to shop for consumer goods at their website, with the item's price, including shipping and duties, listed in rupees. 20 North then processes the order for the manufacturer, who receives payment for their goods in US dollars and ships the order to a US warehouse for reshipment to India.

"There is a huge demand in India for specialty products that we take for granted here, such as iPhone accessories, home improvement products, gadgets and household items, watches, and niche apparel. We are solving the problem of 'where can we find more sales' for these types of manufacturers by connecting them to our already-built pipeline directly into India," Palarea says.

Writer: Amy McNeal
Source: Richard Palarea, 20 North

New Website Tackles The Challenges Of Solo Parenting

SoloParenting.com launched recently to provide advice, resources, and a supportive community for single, separated, and divorced parents. Founder Tanzi Craig was inspired to launch the website and create an online community for solo parents when looking for online support following her own separation.

"I remembered being awake at 3 a.m. during the initial months of separation, scared and lonely, with no one to talk to about everything I was freaking out about. Then I thought, there's got to be a website that has info about all the things that keep you up at night. When I searched I really didn't find what I was looking for. So I decided to create [it]," Craig says.

The website is designed to be a portal for single parents to access resources that will make them feel less isolated. Peer-to-peer advice and articles on finances, dating, travel, activities, and relationships offer perspectives to single parents that encourage them to be connected to the community. SoloParenting.com also offers anonymous message boards for solo parents to connect with one another.

"There were an awful lot of blogs out there by single parents but those are awfully narrow and you really have to look around for someone with whom you feel connected. Plus their advice might be right on but they aren't psychotherapists, physicians, attorneys, experts about different topics. I allow readers to submit questions for these types of experts and get real answers back," Craig continues.

The growing website will be looking to expand its offerings in the area soon, with webinars and workshops designed to help single parents deal with their unique challenges. The site is also looking to add more contributors and experts to its roster.

Writer: Amy McNeal
Source: Tanzi Craig, SoloParenting.com

Growing Manufacturer My Custom Sticker Launches New Website

Baltimore Entrepreneur James Cullen was looking for more fulfillment from life than his career as a lawyer was providing. He found an outlet for his creativity by becoming a designer of custom stickers. His growing sticker company, My Custom Sticker, recently launched a new website to sell both pop culture and custom sticker designs directly to the public.

"I was walking my dog, and I noticed that every other car in my neighborhood had a Nantucket sticker on one side of their bumper and a Maryland Club parking sticker on the other. I happen to know the Maryland Club only has 12 parking places. It struck me that people like to advertise what they do, what they're proud of, where they belong, or what they like," Cullen says.

The Hunt Valley-based company is growing. My Custom Sticker employs 9 people, but is looking to add staff. The company recently added four designs from the popular BBC television series Doctor Who to their catalog. My Custom Sticker has expanded their catalog for wide appeal, from 50 designs at launch to over 1600 designs today.

"We started out doing area-specific souvenirs using text, but what began to set us apart is our graphics. For example, we have over 100 dog breeds. We have everything from New Age to Celtic to hunting and fishing to sports. Our stickers give you an inexpensive way to display what makes you unique and how you relate to everyone else," Cullen continues.

The company is focusing now on developing a business-to-business website, allowing wholesale clients to buy in bulk or create their own designs. My Custom Sticker expects to have the new B2B site up and running by the end of this year.

Writer: Amy McNeal
Source: James Cullen, My Custom Sticker

Gamescape Showcases Growing Maryland Game Industry at Artscape

Maryland's growing game industry was on display at Artscape this weekend. Sponsors MAGfest and Innovate Baltimore helped put together the showcase, held in the Pinkard Gallery at the Bunting Center on the campus of the Maryland Institute College of Art. Innovate Baltimore co-founder Ben Walsh organized Gamescape to encourage area video game fans to take a look at what Baltimore's game industry has to offer.

"I was inspired to create Gamescape because I love video games and wanted to share what the local community is creating. This gives us a chance to highlight the creative artists and technologists working in Maryland to create video games. We're hoping to inspire more people to pursue it as a career, and possibly follow the artists they see this weekend," Walsh says.

Over a dozen game designers and companies from Baltimore and other areas presented displays and demos of their most recent games, from iPad applications and Flash games to first person shooters and interactive story games. Gamescape also featured a fine arts display from prominent area game designers, and workshops by professional game developers to connect with artists considering game development as a career choice. Classic arcade games were also on display.

"With all of the great universities around, Baltimore has a ton of great emerging developers. However, historically, many of those graduating students have left Baltimore, so it is hard to find veteran experience. But Baltimore has many wonderful amenities, including affordable housing, that make it an appealing place for aging developers to come and raise a family," Walsh continues.

Walsh is currently launching a new Baltimore-based game company, Pure Bang Games. Their newest game, "My Pet Rock", was demonstrated at this year's Gamescape.

Writer: Amy McNeal
Source: Ben Walsh, Innovate Baltimore

18 Rabbits Tells Stories of Trouble Spots

Inspired by stories he sees when filming in troubled parts of the world, Baltimore documentary filmmaker Richard Lakin is looking to use his company, 18 rabbits digital media, to inspire change and draw attention to the problems faced by people in some of the world's most challenged places.

"Most of our pop media is obsessed with the trivial; the scandals of political figures, what Kim Kardashian is up to, or yet another vampire story. When I'm on these travels, I meet a lot of people who are serious about making a real change in the world. Telling their stories is my way of clearing out some of the clutter and focusing on real issues," Lakin says.

The company has partnered with foundations, NGOs, and non-profits from the US and around the globe to create social media strategies that draw attention to the work being done in countries like Honduras and Kenya. 18 rabbits also works with organizations to promote corporate responsibility, sustainability initiatives, and education.

"I believe that social media has the ability to change perceptions and influence policy, and that is my approach to web campaigns. Some people still think that promoting their cause on outlets like Facebook and Twitter is not something to be taken seriously, and use traditional media outlets for their branding, marketing, and public image. They are being left out of the global conversation," Lakin notes.

18 rabbits digital media recently entered into a partnership with an organization that promotes sustainable business practices and corporate social responsibility initiatives in the Middle East/ North Africa region, and will be providing content production and web strategies.

Writer: Amy McNeal
Source: Richard Lakin,
18 rabbits digital media

Bit BY Bit Combines Business With Altruism

Computer training firm Bit BY Bit has grown from from one entrepreneur's idea to a thriving company in downtown Hampden. Founder Kimberly Branch is using her company's success as an opportunity to give back to the community by providing computers to disadvantaged families in Baltimore.

"In providing training, I realized that a lot of people don't have computers in the home. How can they retain what they are learning or even keep pace with the rest of society with out access to technology?" Brand says.

"I ask clients, friends, family, anyone that I can think of for donations. I take the donations and refurbish them. Then I donate them to my students who need computers."

Branch's desire to use her company to help those in need was inspired by her own experiences. While receiving public assistance in the 1990's, Branch participated in a program offered through the Department of Housing and Urban Development that encouraged residents of public housing to take entrepreneurship and business training classes offered by The Women Entrepreneurs of Baltimore. Her experiences in the program encouraged her to both open her business and give back to the community.

"I started working with Housing clients and others who are considered to be a part of the 'economically disadvantaged' population, [and] I realized that people needed to see a real person who had come from where they are. A person who had a desire to make a change and despite the 'Nay Sayers' to take steps to do so," she says.

Bit BY Bit is continuing to grow with the changing technology market. The company is increasing its network and database security programs to meet increased demand for those services.

Writer: Amy McNeal
Source: Kimberly Branch, Bit BY Bit Computer Training

Venture Funding Network Launches National Affiliate Search

Venture Funding Network is searching for national affiliate marketing partners to promote its business connections website. The company began searching for partners in June through outreach efforts at business networking events and on the web.

The Columbia based startup launched the site in 2010. The platform is designed to facilitate connections between entrepreneurs, business finance professionals, and service providers in a variety of industries.  

"We're growing and looking at ways to involve more entrepreneurs, service providers, and financiers in our online community. Our platform provides a way for businesses to connect and foster growth," says Phillip Bradford, CEO of Venture Funding Network, LLC.

Strong early positive response to the site has given Venture Funding Network the impetus to roll out its national affiliate marketing program earlier than expected. The company is seeking experienced regional partners in all US and Canadian markets.

"We're looking for national affiliates to promote VFN as we expand. We want to work with businesses with strong local connections to provide greater growth opportunities in the economic recovery," Bradford says.

Venture Funding Network plans to begin announcing new partnerships as early as this fall.  

Writer: Amy McNeal
Source: Venture Funding Network, LLC

Change Matters Becomes Maryland's First Benefit LLC

Change Matters, a social enterprise consulting firm, has become Maryland's first Benefit LLC. The Takoma Park-based company advises Maryland non-profit and social purpose businesses.

"This designation honors and recognizes the way we want to do business. In a balanced way. And really in a way that puts serious emphasis on community improvement and environmental stewardship. I do think that this designation is a differentiation factor," says Change Matters, Benefit LLC founder and principal Amy Kincaid.

The Benefit LLC structure is the first of its kind in the US. Maryland's Benefit Corporation law took effect last October, making Maryland the first state to recognize a specific corporate designation for companies that choose to balance financial concerns with social and environmental missions. The statute creating the designation was signed by Governor Martin O'Malley in May, 2011.

June 1, 2011 was the first day that companies could file for organization as a Benefit LLC. In addition to Change Matters, other Maryland firms are pursuing the Benefit LLC designation. Substance 151, a Baltimore-based communications firm, was the second company to file. Clean Currents, a wind and solar energy provider, has also filed for the designation.

"There are no direct, clear financial incentives to doing this. Even though I do think there is potential value to the state to encouraging this kind of business, there are no tax incentives, there are no special procurement points, marketing business development assistance, or such," continues Amy Kincaid. "I believe this kind of economic activity can generate perhaps modestly, but deeply and sustainably, local jobs and revenue and community assets, innovation toward solving social problems."

Change Matters founder Amy Kincaid will be moderating the panel discussion "Social Enterprise: When Your Business Is Changing The World" at July's ThinkBig Baltimore conference.

Writer: Amy McNeal
Source: Amy Kincaid, Change Matters, Benefit LLC

Miss Shirley's Keeps Growing, Enters the Food Truck Scene

Award winning cafe chain Miss Shirley's has entered the burgeoning Baltimore food truck scene, launching their first food truck in Tide Point on June 1.  

The launch of the new truck comes during a period of concern for entrepreneurs as Baltimore's city government explores regulations and permit issues with the growing trend. The City's first step was to establish new "Food Truck Zones" in locations around the city. After attending a June 1 meeting on the issue, and hearing about the steps being taken to resolve concerns about food trucks in the city, Miss Shirley's feels confident that their truck with keep rolling.

"I think the city is open to the food truck phenomenon," says Jennifer Mcillwain, marketing manager with Miss Shirley's. "We understand being sensitive to our surroundings, we're restaurant owners too. We'll be in private lots that we've been invited to."

Miss Shirley's envisions using the food truck as both a revenue source and a marketing tool. The truck will be visiting different Baltimore areas on a rotating basis, including setting up for business in private lots in Tide Point, the Rotunda, and the Morgan Stanley building. The menu features a variety of breakfast and lunch favorites, including blueberry pancakes, Miss Shirley's Gumbo, the Maryland Omelet, and several sandwiches.

"There's a demand for bringing Miss Shirley's to the people. It's staying with the times," Mcillwain says.

Business is up from 2010 for Miss Shirley's and the cafe chain will be growing in 2011. Miss Shirley's plans to open a new location in Annapolis in the fall. The company is looking to hire new workers for several kitchen positions, including line cooks and sous chefs, to replace staff that will be moving to the new Annapolis restaurant.

Writer: Amy McNeal
Source: Jennifer Mcillwain,  Miss Shirley's
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