Photo courtesy of Baltimore Business Journal

It’s been almost five years since The Business Monthly conducted a Q&A with Startup Maryland CEO Mike Binko. Since, there have been numerous developments locally, regionally and nationally for entrepreneurship. Binko calls it “a solid ride” for Startup Maryland, which was founded under the auspices of Startup America. The national organization was forged by Steve Case, former CEO of America Online, who founded the D.C.-based venture capital firm Revolution LLC.

What are the latest developments at Startup Maryland?

Much has happened concerning our Ecosystem Model for supporting entrepreneurs. We’re delighted to say that Startup Maryland has engaged more than 1,700 startups, which ranks second among the 40-plus states that launched under Startup America. More recently, diversity of our startup ecosystem has become an area about which we’ve became intentional. At the end of 2018, we discovered that more than 60 percent of our ventures have minorities represented in their founding teams.

Looking forward, we’re developing programs and additional metrics designed to measure the effectiveness of the Startup Maryland Ecosystem Model. As a result, we also discovered that the Startup Maryland Ecosystem encompasses more than 275,000 business-minded voters. Given Maryland’s relatively small population, it reveals that the community is very active in policy stewardship concerning topics that matter to entrepreneurs and their growing ventures. That said, we remain apolitical. What we do care about is people and policy.

What’s happening nationally?

When Startup America ran its course in late 2015, the ecosystems that had launched continued the mission from 2016 until 2018 as a self-funded group of volunteer leaders.
I’m fortunate enough to have been asked to join, as a co-founder, for the rebranding of the Startup America mission under a new organization named the Startup Champions Network (SCN).

We launched SCN in Denver one year ago.

SCN strives to professionalize the craft of entrepreneurial ecosystem building. As SCN matures, we believe that sharing the Startup Maryland metrics, stories of our entrepreneurs, their ventures and our Ecosystem Model will be a great opportunity. We firmly believe our efforts can serve as best practices in this emerging industry.
What is your perspective on Opportunity Zones (OZs)

We think that the operating business asset class is more compelling than just the real estate asset class. Having observed other state peers via SCN, we believe Maryland crafted its OZ efforts better than most states by aligning our Designated OZs around critical infrastructure and workforce assets.

What’s your take on OZ legislation?

Last year’s session concentrated on real estate and place making. We think this year should focus on entrepreneurship and operating businesses and we’re ready to mobilize strong programs, metrics and data.

What benefits are available to businesses?

Attracting and retaining talent in Maryland and the mid-Atlantic is incredibly challenging. So, we’ve rolled up our sleeves to find solutions and have worked with blue-chip service providers of health, wealth and operational benefits. We’re proud to say that we’ve assembled a comprehensive package of benefits that are tailored to startup needs. These benefits are being offered as the Startup Maryland Ecosystem Benefits Model and are priced very aggressively to help with workforce development.

How can startups find support in Maryland?

Our best recommendation is to be active in cultivating your network. We have more than 300 organizations that are part of the Startup Maryland ecosystem and map to academia, incubators/accelerators, co-working, chambers, industry associations and economic development agencies, among others. On the national stage, Maryland founders and ventures are very fortunate that we are in the Washington, D.C. to New York-Boston metroplex. Federal agencies such as the Small Business Administration, the U.S. Department of Commerce, the U.S. Census Bureau, National Institute of Standards and Technology, the National Cybersecurity Center of Excellence, the National Institutes of Health/National Cancer Institute and others are headquartered in our area.

Under CEO Mike Binko (left), Startup Maryland has engaged more than 1,700 startups, which ranks second among the 40-plus states that launched under former America Online CEO Steve Case’s Startup America.

What’s up with the STRT1UP Roadshow tour?

For the past two years, the STRT1UP Roadshow has run in three stages, from April until November, giving us more time to spend on-the-ground in our subEcosystems. We are now in Stage Three of the 2019 STRT1UP Roadshow with industry weeks and county economic development celebrations, The Made in Maryland Festival, Startup Weeks, Baltimore Innovation Week and other events like BetaCity and the Economic Alliance of Greater Baltimore (EAGB) annual meeting happening during this stage. Watch for the Startup Maryland bus stopping into a location near you.

On that note, the STRT1UP Roadshow will be at the Howard County Innovation Center on Nov. 5.  What should we expect?

This tour stop, to be held in partnership with EAGB and Howard County Economic Development Authority, will feature health/wellness and related innovations. Founders and startups will get a first glimpse of the new co-working and incubation space where the Maryland Center for Entrepreneurship and Howard Tech Council now also reside. That’s a true ecosystem hub.

How is angel investing evolving?

As anyone in our ecosystems knows, startup founders request access to capital. This typically means early-stage equity capital, which is most often provided by angel investors. Another metric that we’ve discovered is that Maryland is a fairly high net-worth state but has a very low ratio of active angel investors. Startup Maryland decided to engage this community actively via a new program called the Angel Academy, which has become an added session to many STRT1UP Roadshow tour stops. Our goal is to engage and educate more than 1,000 new potential angels by the end of 2021.

What is Startup Maryland’s greatest victory?

Remaining true to our mission as “By Entrepreneurs … For Entrepreneurs.” We believe we have become the organization that has cultivated credible relationships with entrepreneurs as peers.