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TEDCO ICE Awards Honor Maryland Innovators

The Maryland Technology Development Corporation held its inaugural ICE Awards ceremony and conference at the National Electronics Museum in Linthicum on May 11. In addition to the awards ceremony, the program also featured a keynote speech by Peter Corbett, founder and CEO of iStrategy Labs.

TEDCO was established by the Maryland General assembly in 1998, with the mandate to be a leading source of seed capital funding and business assistance for entrepreneurs specializing in technology. In addition to funding, TEDCO also facilitates relationships between start-up tech firms and federal laboratories, research universities, and business incubators. Over 300 Maryland firms are associated with TEDCO.

"TEDCO is the largest seed investor in the region," says Robert Rosenbaum, president of TEDCO. "We thought it was about time that we should recognize the hard work of these folks."

The ICE Awards honor emerging industry leaders in innovation and entrepreneurship. The 2011 Innovation winner was Oculis Labs of Hunt Valley, a developer of encryption technology. Also honored as the 2011 Entrepreneur of the year was Dr. Chuck Daitch of Akonni Biosystems, a firm that develops and markets integrated molecular diagnostic systems. 2011 Company of the Year award winner Integrated BioTheraputics Inc. was honored for its growth and community involvement.

"This is a great forum for our community of collaborators to come together. Everything you see here, this is all 'wow' technology," continues Mr. Rosenbaum.

TEDCO is focused on finding the technologies and entrepreneurs of the future. The quasi-public company is looking to expand beyond state funding into venture capital.

Writer: Amy McNeal
Sources: TEDCO, Robert Rosenbaum & Kathleen Shaffer

Ravens Linebacker Ray Lewis Launches IT Staffing Firm

Baltimore Ravens football legend Ray Lewis is expanding his RL52 business conglomerate to include a staffing service. The newly launched company, RL52 Staffing, will focus on job placement for IT professionals. The Baltimore-based company cites proximity to the burgeoning IT industry in the Maryland-DC-Virginia area as a key factor in its choice to launch here.

"Some of the best leaders and the best companies are located in the Baltimore corridor. The Northern Virginia, DC and Maryland markets are some of the best for the staffing industry," says Dan Caporale, an executive with RL52 staffing. "All that aside, Baltimore is where it all began for Ray and we couldn't think of a better place to launch our newest venture."

RL52 Staffing will place information technology professionals in positions covering the spectrum of the IT sector, from systems integration and web development to technical support and network security. The firm works with both job seekers and companies looking for IT professionals to provide temporary staffing, staff augmentation, permanent placement, outsourcing, consulting, and outplacement assistance.

Using social media to provide job seekers with leads is part of RL52 Staffing's "Get In The Game" approach to connecting job seekers with companies looking to fill positions. New job openings are highlighted in the firm's Facebook and Twitter feeds.  

In addition to traditional staffing, RL52 Staffing also seeks to pursue a commitment to community service that is emphasized in the corporate culture of the RL52 Group. The firm will be providing job placement assistance to under-served groups and disabled veterans. RL52 Staffing will also be working with community groups to promote outreach programs that enable entrepreneurship and empowerment.  

RL52 Staffing is the newest addition to Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis growing business holdings. His RL52 Group also includes insurance, fashion, merchant services, consulting, real estate, and fitness companies as well as the Ray Lewis Foundation charity.

Writer: Amy McNeal
Source: Dan Caporale, RL52 Group

Bed and Breakfasts Heat Up For Summer

Baltimore's growing tourism niche has been a boon to the members of the Better Baltimore Bed and Breakfasts Association. With more tourists coming to town, innkeepers around Baltimore are adding staff and looking at ways to encourage more tourists to choose a bed and breakfast for their vacation home.

"We're noticing that things are getting back on track," says Barry Werner, a founder of Better Baltimore Bed and Breakfasts. "Some of our members have recently had record months."

The Association has teamed up with Betterwaytostay.com to offer promotions that encourage travelers to choose a bed and breakfast when planning a trip. Through the "B&Bs Kick Gas!" promotion, bed and breakfasts around the country are offering discounts to guests who might be turned off from traveling by high gas prices. In Baltimore, members of the Better Baltimore Bed and Breakfasts Association are offering discounts on stays of two nights or more when couples show proof of carpooling on the trip.

Baltimore's bed and breakfasts are also expanding staff as the tourism season kicks off. As more owners of inns ramp up their summer promotions, several local inns are hiring innkeepers and additional staff.

"Many of our members are hiring innkeepers to help with day to day tasks, and free up the owners to concentrate more on marketing,"  continues Mr. Werner.

The Better Baltimore Bed and Breakfast Association was formed in September 2010. The Association will be launching an expansion effort to include associate members from other hospitality businesses  in upcoming months.

Writer: Amy McNeal
Sources: Barry Werner, Better Baltimore Bed and Breakfasts Association, Better Way To Stay

Tapping Into the Specialty Food Trend at TowsonGlobal Business Incubator

Specialty food is the fastest growing sector of the food market. In 2010, sales of specialty food and beverages rose 7%, representing over 70 billion dollars of revenue for the industry. According to the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade, specialty foods represent 13.1 percent of all food sales.

Jeff Landsman at Specialty Food Sales is getting in on this trend. His startup company, based at the TowsonGlobal Business Incubator, brings specialty food products to stores throughout the Mid-Atlantic. The company represents manufacturers of dozens of niche market products, from sauces to snack foods. Specialty Food Sales focuses on bringing these products to the attention of grocery chains.

"We represent unique products that are natural, don't have a large advertising budget, and most importantly taste good," says Mr. Landsman.

Mr. Landsman has over 25 years of experience in the food industry. He chose the TowsonGlobal Business Incubator for his newest venture in order to explore the resources of a college community. The TowsonGlobal Business Incubator, located on the university campus, provides entrepreneurs with access to resources such as office space and business counseling.

"Because I have been in the business for so long, I thought that opening in a business incubator could bring in opportunity for collaboration. Working in a university brings in youthful perspectives and ideas," continues Mr. Landsman. "It was definitely a good decision."

Specialty Food sales is launching a new product, Popcorners. These gluten-free popcorn based snack chips will be appearing soon in Giant Food and Stop & Shop stores across the Mid-Atlantic.  

Writer: Amy McNeal
Sources: Jeff Landsman, Specialty Food Sales; the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade, Inc.

Landscape Architecture Startup Promotes Environmentally Responsible Design

A new sustainable landscape architecture firm is riding the trend toward green design and planning. land/arch works with developers to take a new approach to environmentally friendly landscape design. The Timonium-based firm creates landscape designs that promote conservation and a low carbon footprint while maximizing the natural resources available at a new building site.

"We emphasize sustainable design and planning because we feel that as a whole, landscape architecture and planning is not adequately addressing these issues," says Rick Kingsbury, a founder of land/arch and a licensed landscape architect.

Land/arch has been working to raise awareness of the potential problems that may be faced by a developer who chooses to bring landscape consultants into the late phases of a construction project. The firm emphasizes looking at the design and planning of a site in it's earliest stages, to promote walkability, water and soil conservation, and the use of native plants in the site design.  

"Site planning is still focused on the automobile, to the detriment of people and how they interact with each other. Landscape architecture and design for the most part still emphasizes exotic plant materials that have high maintenance and water requirements," continues Mr. Kingsbury.

Through the firm's Integrated Design approach to planning, landscape architects visit the site of a project in the early planning stages, and formulate a low impact design plan with the goal of promoting sustainability while reducing maintenance costs. land/arch is currently working on a LEED Platinum residence in Annapolis and a new playground to be built in Baltimore.

Writer: Amy McNeal
Sources: Rick Kingsbury, land/arch

Columbia Start-up Launches New Website For Business Funding Connections

In these challenging economic times, it's increasingly difficult for entrepreneurs to find needed funding to launch start-up businesses or expand an existing business. Private financing, such as venture capitalists and angel investors, can be one viable solution for entrepreneurs looking for business funding. The trick is how to find those funding sources that might be interested. A newly launched online platform has entered the financial scene with the goal of bringing together entrepreneurs seeking funding and lenders, venture capitalists, and other investors, as well as firms that specialize in providing business services.

Columbia based Venture Funding Network provides a place for entrepreneurs, investors, and business service providers to get connected online at its new website, VentureFundingNetwork.com. Registration is free and membership allows businesses to access an array of tools designed to promote customized connections.

"In today's business climate, it's the connections you make that open doors and help you succeed," says Phillip Bradford, Founder and CEO of Venture Funding Network, LLC. "Venture Funding Network offers our members the opportunity to make those door-opening connections that can lead to business and job growth."

Venture Funding Network offers entrepreneurs the opportunity to post investment-grade business plans and specialized profiles outlining their business funding needs. Entrepreneurs will also have access to a searchable database of lenders, venture capitalists, angel investors, and other financiers looking to make new investments. Business service providers will have the opportunity to post profiles to the site that help them connect with entrepreneurs looking for needed specialized services such as accounting and business plans. Financiers can use the searchable database of entrepreneurs to find the kind of loans or funding that fit their interests. The website also promotes opportunities for buying and selling businesses, as well as finding new business partners, joint ventures, or other collaborations.

"I'm excited about the opportunities for development and growth that Venture Funding Network provides for Maryland and D.C. area businesses." says Bradford.

As Venture Funding Network continues to grow, the Columbia firm looks to expand its national reach. The company will begin rolling out a national affiliate marketing program in the next few weeks.

Writer: Amy McNeal
Source: Phillip Bradford, CEO, Venture Funding Network, LLC

Baltimore Education Startups Aim to Tap National Momentum

Baltimore is a center of the for-profit education sector as headquarters to Laureate Education and Sylvan Learning, and the city is a base of major operations for other companies such as K12 and Connections Education, but startups based in the city's Emerging Technology Centers (ETCs) are also looking to make their mark in the multi-billion dollar education products and services industry.

A handful of small education innovation companies are working on web-based tools at the ETC in Canton. They want a piece of the market being stimulated by President Obama's Race to the Top and i3 (Investing in Innovation) initiatives, which are working their way from the U.S. Department of Education into state and local school boards and districts.

Khalid Smith is one of those ETC entrepreneurs. He says i3 and Race to the Top are in some ways connected to George W. Bush's No Child Left Behind, which itself was a modification of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. However, Obama's investment initiatives are rooted in the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act--the federal stimulus of 2009.

"They are related in that they build off of the same idea that -- although the federal government is not constitutionally empowered to dictate educational policy -- it does provide huge sums of money to the states to assist with large education problems, and it theoretically can attach whatever requirements it likes to say what a state needs to do to qualify for these 'additional' funds," Smith says.

Through i3, the Department of Education and the administration aim to spur collaborations between non-profit organizations and school districts, with enterprises watching carefully to see what market segments they can serve. Locally, Maryland schools are ranked highest in the nation by The College Board and Education Week magazine, and on April 15 the Maryland State Board of Education announced that it would hire a search firm to find its next superintendent after Nancy Grasmick ends her 30-year tenure at the post. Maryland's record of high achievement sits alongside a history of challenges in Baltimore City schools, which now include 34 charter schools. Khalid Smith adds that it is still difficult for for-profit education innovation companies to work their products into school systems, but the overall promotion of educational innovation in Baltimore and nationwide is encouraging for emerging companies in his sector.

Writer: Sam Hopkins
Source: Khalid Smith, Emerging Technology Center - Canton

JHU Tech Transfer Advisor Foresees InvestMaryland Impact

Now that Maryland legislators have approved the $70 million InvestMaryland initiative to spur venture capital flows in the state, Baltimore-area institutions that are engaged in bringing institutional research to market are working the new money from Annapolis into their outlook.

Aris Melissaratos, Johns Hopkins University Senior Advisor to the President for Enterprise Development, is optimistic about the impact of InvestMaryland, which passed on April 11, on the commercialization process. Yet, he cautions that the funds need to be managed well to have a maximal impact:

"It is a great program assuming that the insurance companies are willing to pay their taxes up front at a discount," says Melissaratos, who spent decades as an executive at Westinghouse and has also served as head of the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development (DBED). InvestMaryland funds will come from rebate incentives to Maryland insurance companies that pay their taxes in advance.  "It is also imperative that the funds be managed wisely by both DBED and the private sector," he adds. In the end, Melissaratos says, "InvestMaryland will make start-up capital more available and, therefore, accelerate the discovery to market process as well as the technology transfer process."

Writer: Sam Hopkins
Source: Aris Melissaratos, Senior Advisor to the President of JHU for Enterprise Development

410 Labs Draws Funding from Social Web Heavyweights

Dave Troy is a busy guy. He's been engaged in a "code sprint" with his 410 Labs team at Baltimore Startup Weekend, he's a key planner of the upcoming TEDx Baltimore on May 15, and his startup company 410 Labs just secured over half a million dollars in Series A venture capital funding from high-level investors associated with LivingSocial and Twitter, among other strategic investors.

All of that activity is intended to help build Baltimore as a global technology hub. At Startup Weekend, 410 Labs created Mailstorm, a management and analytics system for multiple email accounts. That will add to its product portfolio, which already includes Replyz.com and Shortmail.com.

"We're really excited to be breaking the mold and showing that you can build a tech company here in Baltimore," Troy says. He adds that many local software developers tend to doubt the ability to raise money for expansion locally.

"Really what it shows me is that it's not just about your location or even necessarily about your ideas," the entrepreneur an investor continues. "It's about your ability to build a network that can make what you're trying to do succeed."

Writer: Sam Hopkins
Source: Dave Troy, 410 Labs

Entrepreneurs to Converge at Baltimore Startup Weekend

Can you build a booming business in a couple of days? The organizers of Baltimore Startup Weekend think it's possible. Over the weekend of Friday, April 15 to Sunday, April 17, more than a hundred business-types of all stripes -- programmers, designers, number-crunchers, and marketing gurus -- will assemble in small groups of five to ten each and seek to launch a business in one weekend.

Everyone starts on Friday at the Emerging Technology Center in Canton with individual ideas, and that evening teams start to coalesce around the best kernels of a company that are pitched to the group. By Saturday, work begins in earnest. The majority of that day is devoted to setting up enough of a company that by Sunday night each team can present a fully-formed enterprise to the plenum at the University of Maryland BioPark.

Aside from the knowledge that you've got what it takes to go through a 54-hour entrepreneurial gauntlet, successful participants will also compete for a piece of a cash prize pool estimated at around $10,000, in addition to non-cash prizes like workspace and free legal advice.

Organizers of Baltimore Startup Weekend include Sunrise Design founder Mike Brenner, Monica Beeman of Funding Universe and Startup City, Fulya Gursel of the Emerging Technology Centers in Canton and on 33rd Street in Waverly, and Edcosystem.com founder and CEO Khalid Smith.

"You don't have to know anybody. Just bring an idea or even just your talent," Brenner says.

"Startup weekend was an original concept developed by entrepreneur Andrew Hyde who lived in Boulder, Colorado and then New York, and sold the concept," Brenner explains. Startup Weekend now unfolds in 5 cities each weekend. With funding from the Kauffman Foundation of Kansas City, which promotes entrepreneurship, and sponsors like Red Bull, which promotes staying awake, Startup Weekend participants are provided with enough resources to allow them to focus on developing ideas into products. What follows the weekend can quickly become a real market force: within weeks of formation at a recent Startup Weekend in Los Angeles, Zaarly raised $1 million in venture capital funding.

Brenner is optimistic about what could come out of Charm City's Startup Weekend.

"I think it's great proof that we can do something in town in a weekend that can be viable, and that we can rapidly prototype it in the week or so after the event." When asked what kind of person might be attracted to such a short-term business incubator, he adds, "It's people like me that think they can spend a weekend dedicated and work their asses off and make something cool."

Writer: Sam Hopkins
Sources: Mike Brenner, Baltimore Startup Weekend

Successful Local Businesspeople to Judge TowsonGlobal Business Plan Competition

On April 11, TowsonGlobal, the business incubator at Towson University, will bring finalists for its Business Plan Competition before a panel of six judges, four of whom are Towson University alumni. The competition winner will receive a free three-month residency at TowsonGlobal as well as a cash prize. The judges' panel includes executives from branding and communications agency Planit, Paypal and eBay subsidiary Bill Me Later, IT developer G.1440, investment firm Evergreen Advisors, and M&T Bank.

By focusing on early-stage local innovation companies and involving successful area entrepreneurial innovators and Towson University alumni, TowsonGlobal Director Clay Hickson says the competition will serve "to strengthen long-lasting entrepreneurial spirit and support innovation across the Greater Baltimore Region that ultimately create a more vibrant economy. The judges panel for this first competition embodies that vision by providing today's innovators with real and useful input from successful entrepreneurs and other business people."

The TowsonGlobal Business Plan Competition's six finalists are:

Women's apparel company Hem of HIS Garment, security service provider Knight Protection, Inc., web learning management system Mocha, infertility treatment online assistance platform My Hopeful Journey, mobile phone technology developer PubRaiders.com, and Facebook game developer Pure Bang Games.

Writer: Sam Hopkins
Source: Clay Hickson, Director, TowsonGlobal

Entrepreneurs, Officials Rally for InvestMaryland Bill in Annapolis

On February 16th entrepreneurs and business interests convened in Annapolis to show of support for the InvestMaryland bill. The legislation, spearheaded by Governor O'Malley, would act as a fund for state investment into the startup economy.

The bill would allow insurance companies to forward-pay their tax liabilities at discounted rates and thereby replenish the Maryland Venture Fund. The hundred-million dollar fund would then be invested as venture capital into Maryland startups. In his testimony, O'Malley said this fund would "help our businesses create thousands of jobs, injecting hundreds of millions of dollars into Maryland's innovation economy."

The legislation addresses a disparity between Maryland's economic potential and its available investment capital. "Great research, great technology, great innovation but we rank very low when it comes to availability of venture capital. So InvestMaryland is an effort to get venture capital flowing," said O'Malley.

Panel member David Troy said, "One of the great things about this bill is it will provide opportunities for parallel and future private investment and that's terrific. Anything that can prompt investors to get into the market is great in my book."

Questions, however, remain regarding the best methods of the fund's allocation. "The Department of Business and Economic Development has indicated a preference not to segment it, and I agree with that decision. There is no reason to create legislative lock-in for one sector vs. another; that would only serve to limit emerging opportunities," said Troy.
Mike Brenner co-organizer of Startup Baltimore said about the allocation, "I think the bill is great for small startups as long as it's distributed amongst a large number of businesses.  I'm not really in favor of seeing $30 million of this fund go right to one company."

Writer: Ryan LeRoy Kleeberger
Sources: David Troy, Mike Brenner, Karl Gurntow, Governer O'Malley, Christian Johansson, The Milken Institute

University of Maryland and Mtech Host Annual 75K Business Plan Competition

University of Maryland and Mtech are holding their annual 75K Business Plan Competition. This year marks the competition's eleventh year.

Dean Cheng, Director of Mtech's venture program, said, "Winning the competition, which is judged by leaders in the region's entrepreneurial community, is some measure of validation that a company's technology and plan to execute as a business are promising."

Past winners, most notably Lurn Inc and Squarespace, have since become some of the fastest growing companies in the U.S.

Lurn Inc founder and CEO Anik said, "Being a winner in this competition was huge for us for many reasons. We were dealing with professionals that really know what they're talking about - their insights are great. Winning was a great validation."

The competition fits into a larger economic picture. Cheng said. "The Business Plan Competition on its own is an excellent educational and networking tool for the teams that enter. However, our bigger goal is to help create high growth, successful companies based on the numerous inventions and innovations that come out of the half billion dollars of research here at UMD each year."

Writer: Ryan LeRoy Kleeberger
Sources: Dean Cheng, UMD, Mtech, Anik Singal

State Funding Could Help Startups Stay In Cahoots

After over a year of intense involvement in founding a technology startup firm in Baltimore, Brian Sierakowski has gotten to a promising point: "We have more opportunities than time or resources," says Sierakowski, whose collaborative web platform www.cahoots.co is based in the Emerging Technology Center in Canton. He and his partners were happy to hear Gov. Martin O'Malley encourage legislators to set aside $100 million to help such startups out with the resource side of the entrepreneurial equation on Thursday, Feb. 3 in his annual State of the State address.

Cahoots is still in the market research stage, with a three-person team now stabilized for over half a year after several personnel switches in the company's initial months. "There aren't too many people out there who individually have the full skill set to take a company to where they want it to be," the Cahoots founder says. Prototyping and strategy development are next steps that can be facilitated by greater availability of funds for startups statewide. For example, web-based companies like Cahoots need to demonstrate their services and accommodate users, which requires buying bandwidth. Removal of anxiety about basic costs through help from Annapolis funds could be the rising tide that lifts all ships in Baltimore's digital harbor.

O'Malley wants the next "world-changing company" to start in Maryland, and Sierakowski says dozens of potentially successful local startups could be incubated with the same $100 million that might make up only a portion of larger traditional jobs projects. Sierakowski also says that money can make planned small-business expansion go faster. "Putting money into the system and making assistance available speeds the process; what would otherwise take a year may take just three months with the right resources."

Writer: Sam Hopkins
Source: Brian Sierakowski, Cahoots

Moodlerooms Launches Joule Apps for Blackberry and Android

Baltimore-based Moodlerooms, Inc., an open-source e-Learning solutions developer, has released its joule Mobile application for Android and Blackberry devices.

Available to any joule user, joule Mobile harnesses the capabilities of smart phones to deliver a feature set that satisfies the evolving e-Learning needs of students and faculty while enabling campus leaders to carry out administrative necessities.

"Moodlerooms' release of joule Mobile for Android and Blackberry provides faculty, administrators, and students convenient, 24/7 mobile access on and off campus through multi-platform mobile technology applications," says Lou Pugliese, president.

joule Mobile engages students by delivering access to courses, interactive maps, and campus-wide news, alerts and notifications, while educators are provided with a mechanism for delivering course related information and materials through the Moodle-based, enterprise e-Learning platform, joule. Administrators are also enabled to keep their respective campus informed with timely notifications and alerts. The application can also be configured to display themes, color schemes and logos specific to a particular institution. joule Mobile is the portal to your campus.

joule Mobile is also supported on the Apple iPhone mobile platform.

Source: Moodlerooms
Writer: Walaika Haskins
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