Nurturing and Funding Maryland’s Innovative Ventures: Where finding the right partners matters

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When a Maryland entrepreneur thinks of starting a new business venture, he/she if often focused on the operational aspects of their vision. How will the product or service evolve? What features will it deliver to consumers? How should they market the venture? While these are critical questions to address upfront, Maryland venture funding needs, and the need to nurture the fledgling company are equally vital to keep front and center.    

The Changed Face of Business Innovation

Pop quiz – What do garages and innovation have in common?

It’s said that software giant Microsoft began its life, back in 1975, in the garage of a college dropout named Bill Gates. When legendary entrepreneurs Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak had an innovative idea in 1976, they turned to the garage of Jobs’ childhood home in Los Altos house, and founded Apple. In 1978, Mark Middleton turned his dream of the Overhead Door Company of Joliet (formerly Middleton Overhead Doors) into reality – in a 2-car garage on Joliet, IL’s Kelly Avenue. And before we move on, let’s not forget how Google got it’s start in 1995 in a University of Stanford dorm room, before Larry Page and Sergey Brin moved their fledgling company to…you guessed it – a garage office![i]

Apparently, the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s were good times for young entrepreneurs to head to the garage to foment innovative ideas that subsequently produced multi-billion-dollar generating companies. Once Apple, Microsoft, Google and many other start-ups were well established in their respective niches, nurturing the business, and attracting funding from deep-pocketed investors wasn’t a big challenge.

But today, young entrepreneurs need much more than a garage to ensure their innovations come to fruition, including:

  • Advice and guidance
  • Access to venture capital and funding
  • Financial advice and support
  • Networking and socializing
  • Office infrastructure
  • Staffing support

For most early-stage businesses, getting these services in time, and at a convenient place, is essential for survival. But often, it’s not that easy to tap into them. Thankfully, there is a wide range of such resources for Maryland entrepreneurs – and these can easily be accessed at the Maryland Innovation Center (MIC). Having easy access to these benefits gives entrepreneurs an early taste of the kinds of critical support and resources they’ll need, going forward.

[i] https://overheaddoorjoliet.com/10-successful-companies-that-started-in-a-garage/

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New Startup Landscape

And that’s the kind of support they’ll need to survive and thrive! Each year, there are millions of businesses established across America, each hoping to bring a unique, innovative, product or service to prospective clients. While nationwide new startup growth has seen mid to high single-digit growth year over year since 2016[i], that trend exploded in 2020 and 2021, by 25.70% and 22.70% respectively, after a stand still year in 2019 (the pandemic).

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While 2022 did see a decline in the nationwide numbers of new startups; the U.S. Bureau of Census indicates there’s a silver lining. According to its statistics[i], the number of Business Applications for January 2023 stood at 420,987, which is a 0.9% increase from December 2022. And while the year following the pandemic meltdown did see a spike in new filings, some jurisdictions, like Maryland, saw new business formations grow even faster. There were 99,817[ii] startup applications filed in 2020 in the state – up by more than 32% from the lean pandemic year of 2019!

[i] https://www.census.gov/econ/bfs/current/index.html

[ii] https://wtop.com/maryland/2021/04/despite-pandemic-business-startups-are-booming-in-maryland/

But hidden behind the overall encouraging rate of startups – both nationwide and within the state of Maryland, is a stark reality of the mortality rates of new business ventures. According to research by the US Small Business Administration[i], while an impressive number (70%) survive beyond the 2-year mark, barely 25% of new startups live to celebrate their 15th birthday!

Judging the new business landscape by the number of startups, therefore, is misleading. And while the number of new startups in the “Old Line State” more recently is encouraging, it takes making available special types of resources for Maryland entrepreneurs to grow their fledgling ventures into institutions that can stand the test of time. And that’s where innovation centers play a vital role. They are the lifeline where many startups find all the help and support they need to emerge into fully viable, self-sustaining business entities.

Innovation Centers 101

An innovation center is truly a microcosm of what startup businesses should expect of a real-world business environment. These centers serve as a platform from where businesses springboard their new ideas and innovations, and take them from vision to reality. In an innovation center, entrepreneurs:

  • Meet like-minded individuals who are passionate about new products and projects
  • Collaborate with other teams and people to find unique solutions to problems they’re facing
  • Work with seasoned professionals who can help them navigate the complex world of taking a fledgling business idea from seed to success
  • Conduct research and exchange ideas about their business, their products, and the services they’re offering  

Fledgling businesses typically need these, and many other, services and specialties throughout the course of their early stages as a business. Consequently, founders and business leaders spend inordinate amounts of time scouring for and sourcing them. Sometimes, the weight of the challenges in acquiring the right service or support can lead promising ventures to an early demise.

For instance, speedy access to Maryland venture funding might be imperative for a start-up venture to demonstrate proof of concept, so they can secure the next round of financing. If an entrepreneur must close a deal in record time; and if he/she must shuttle across multiple offices, travel through several districts and regions, and consult with individuals scattered across multiple locations – chances of a successful deal closure diminish by the hour!

By bringing together all the service and support required by businesses, in a single ecosystem, innovation centers seek to give businesses a better chance of success. There are a mountain of opportunities and critical resources that entrepreneurs desperately need to succeed. We’ve anecdotally heard about “The Mountain coming to the prophet!” However, there’s one way for early startup entrepreneurs to profit from the mountain: Leverage the connections, resources and opportunities provided by the innovation center!

[i] https://cdn.advocacy.sba.gov/wp-content/uploads/2021/12/06095731/Small-Business-FAQ-Revised-December-2021.pdf

Collaborate with other teams and people

How Early-stage Support Makes a Difference

The fact that an individual or team has an innovative vision, does not automatically assure venture success. Startup venture history is replete with instances of brilliant ideas that never came to fruition or gained momentum but eventually failed and vanished. A post mortem of many of those entities will likely reveal that they didn’t have required levels of support they needed.

The plethora of resources for Maryland entrepreneurs, available at the Maryland Innovation Center, goes far beyond just counseling and consulting. What if:

  • Your business needed funding, but you didn’t know how to raise capital, or where to turn to access it?
  • The business plan you’ve drawn-up seems sound to you, but you needed someone to cast a second pair of eyes and vet it. Where do you turn to?
  • Your team has developed an innovative pitch to market the business, but how can you make it sound more professional – and not just appear like an aspirational vision or vague idea?
  • You need office space but don’t have a lot of funding to acquire your own building. Where do you turn to for shared offices and coworking space?
  • You are on a tight budget, how will you fund and acquire cutting edge technologies, like high-speed internet, video and communications facilities, conference rooms and convention centers?
  • Most of your team is good at what they do, but you need access to educational opportunities for key staff, and professional development programs for your team?

From resident entrepreneurs who have “been there, done that”, and are willing to now share those experiences with you; to qualified and expert professionals, who willingly act as mentors to budding entrepreneurs – accessing these resources at the MIC can make a difference in your venture’s life. A program such as The Business Revitalization Initiative Through Entrepreneurship (BRITE), for instance, helps accelerate the transition from innovation through commercialization.

What matters is that participating early-stage ventures get access to an entire ecosystem of support- from mentoring and marketing, to knowledge about Maryland venture funding options, to product development and sales pitching. While these services are available outside of innovation centers, accessing them is often time-consuming – because they are geographically dispersed – and come with a steep price tag (that only deep-pocketed ventures can afford!).

Early stage ventures have access to a range of in-house resources at the innovation center, many of which they can access free of cost. These include:

  • Individual Counseling and Referrals
  • Business Education Seminars
  • Government Contracting Assistance, and
  • The Small Business Awards Program.

Individually, fledgling businesses might spend months trying to locate such programs. And then, once they become aware of a program’s existence – such as the availability of government contracting opportunities – they could spend months navigating the processes and procedures in place to access those services.

In a highly competitive early-stage startup environment, speed is often what determines success from failure. Having mentors and veteran entrepreneurs on your team, who can “hand hold” and walk you through the process, is often the competitive advantage that is needed to take your innovative vision and turn it into a world class business!     

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