Jeani Burns can register, categorize and stay in touch with 6,000 volunteers in a single day — and she’s still cheerful when she hits the hay that evening.
She’s been doing just that for Richmond 2015, a nine-day Union Cycliste Internationale Road World Championships event that will be held in Virginia’s capital city this fall. Given this is only the second time the event has been held outside of Europe, it’s a high profile gig that will give Burns’ company, VoMaSmart, a chance to shine.
Burns and her co-founder, Mike Koenig, make it look easy, but it’s not. They have developed and coded a cutting edge, online volunteer management system that allows volunteers to choose their roles, sign up with their friends and share their experience on social media.
VoMaSmart has local clients as well, including Wine in the Woods and the National Family Resiliency Center, and Burns said she continues to reach out to build the company’s markets. Headquartered in Savage Mill, VoMaSmart got its start when the Howard Tech Council (HTC) steered the fledgling business into residency with the Maryland Center for Entrepreneurship (MCE), where it remained for six months.
Burns is no stranger to launching businesses — VoMaSmart is her third — but she’d never hatched a software company and knew she’d need some advice. At the MCE, she received mentoring, along with the company of fellow businesspeople, in an environment that offered constant motivation and feedback.
Burns’s co-founder, Koenig, serves as the company’s chief developer, handling the technical side of the business, with the help of two junior developers. “I have a technical background, and Jeani has the marketing and business,” he said.
When Koenig first heard Burns talk about the idea, he thought, “Surely, someone has done this before” — but no one had. And VoMaSmart was born.
VoMaSmart is just one example among the many companies that have grown strong in the MCE, said HTC Director Tracy Turner.
“An important objective of business incubators is creating employment opportunities in the local economy and commercializing technologies,” she said. “The companies at the MCE provide an opening into a highly competitive and largely impenetrable job market. They employ handfuls of young, qualified individuals in a range of industries, as well as offer a varied, intensive and in-depth experience for interns, who fare better than finding a photocopying or filing job in a big company.”
Incubators are generally considered to be an essential foundation for any economic development program, said Turner.
In addition to the MCE, the tech council is constantly looking for ways to boost local entrepreneurial minds, she said. “Additional programs and services have been designed within the HTC to support connecting the ecosystem, including networking events, a speaker series, training and workshops, access to state and national investor programs, and other free business resources.”
Turner has been bringing new resources to the table at the council this summer. Beth Woodring, fund manager for the Howard County Economic Development Authority, has been speaking at tech council events and moderated a speaker series as well.
“The vast majority of small business owners are truly sincere in ‘paying it forward’ and helping out another small business firm,” she said. “It is a collaboration that has so many positive impacts for the local business climate and which helps build the business environment.”
Woodring not only provides guidance, but she learns about programs, resources and connections that help her grow professionally.
“While this is true of most business networking events, with the tech council, there is the added spark of innovation,” she said. “I remain amazed at the number of new products, services, apps and more that are being developed by the tech council members.”
The collaboration of tech people with non-tech partners — like Koenig and Burns — often occurs within the HTC, Woodring said. “Non-technologists come into play — mentors, incubators, business development staff — who can often close the gap on the business hurdles. For the tech owner, the technology is their comfort zone, and the business piece is often daunting.”
A few weeks ago, Ami Gadhia, portfolio director for Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures, attended a Howard Tech Council event — Women In Networking — for the first time.
“I wanted to make contacts both professionally and personally,” said Gadhia. “I met a potential customer I had worked with a number of years ago,” she said. “We connected, and we are having continued discussion about another technology in our portfolio.”
Gadhia also made personal contacts. “I met a number of other women from my local community,” she said.
Azi Rosenblum, founder and CEO of RemSource Inc., also attended the Women In Networking event. “This one was actually inviting men to attend, and I figured I’d break the gender barrier,” he said. “I think the Howard Tech Council offers new and interesting networking events.”