Jim Gibbons (Submitted photo)

When the stock market plummeted in 1987, Jim Gibbons expressed his concerns about the crash with his father, who was a financial adviser. But Mr. Gibbons replied with some sound advice: “Sometimes the best opportunities lie in uncertain markets,” he said.

That piqued young Jim’s interest in the financial field and he followed his dad’s lead in 1998. With a philosophy of “investing in strength” through technical analysis, in 2012 Gibbons eventually cofounded what is now known as Alpha Pointe Capital. At the Annapolis firm, he assists entrepreneurs, business owners and corporate executives with 401(k) and wealth management services.

Around that time, he discovered the Chesapeake Regional Tech Council and served on its board from 2016 through 2018, when the CRTC merged with the Maryland Tech Council. Today, Gibbons is chair of what is now called the Chesapeake Regional Chapter of the MTC with Co-Chair Trish Farrell.

What are your thoughts on the progress of the CRC at the end of year one?

It was hectic and challenging to find our bearings, and despite the history of our group, we had to learn and navigate like a startup. But it was a great first year and the support we received from the community and the MTC was strong.
We had plenty of help from the debut launch to the successive events that we created throughout the year and rebuilt some of the same assets we’ve had in the past with some tweaks, such as BBQ on the Bay and our Forum Group format. So, we constantly thank our previous leadership for helping to create an enduring model for which Trish, yours truly and our steering committee could quickly bring back for our members.

How many members have joined the CRC? What’s the MTC total?

The umbrella organization has almost 800 total members. The CRTC had about 100 and we’re now at about 35. However, some of our former CRTC members simply joined the MTC; still, we’re shooting to get back to about 100 for the CRC.

Did most of the former members of the CRTC return to the fold when you reestablished the regional chapter in mid-2022?

While we had a few core CRTC members find board positions at MTC, some of our members never left ― and some former members are with new companies or are building new ventures and wanted to join the CRC.
However, we’re a startup so there is a little bit of “prove it” and “show me” going on, which I think we’ll certainly address in 2024 as we work to double our programming, build strong bonds and reinvent ourselves.

How much does it cost to join the CRC?

It’s the same cost to join the MTC and it ranges from $700 for technology and life science companies to $10,925 for certain associate members.

What types of programming will you offer in 2024?

Under Trish’s guidance, we’ve also rebooted the Ambassador Program for members who help connect and acclimate new members to the CRC and MTC. We’ll have a host of offerings, including the following.

  • The Forum Groups, which are a carry-over from the CRTC. They are micro-communities within our membership that rally around a particular tech sector or philosophy. This model allows for hyper-engagement; today, we’re offering GovCon, Emerging Industries and MedTech, with some new offerings.
  • ChesaPitch is a program that we started last year. It’s our showcase with our “celebrity” judges, who are actual investors. This is part of our effort to help expand the ecosystem more for investors and a well as founders.
  • We’ll have the CRC Roadshow, which is another new event that spotlights members and tech companies that grew out of our Steering Committee. It consists of those parties hosting a happy hour at their place of business.
  • A Job Fair with Anne Arundel Community College and the Anne Arundel Workforce Development Corp. AACC and our partners include us in many meaningful programs and this effort is a direct result of the conversations we had with our Steering Committee and tech companies in the community regarding workforce issues.
  • Also with AACC, we’re starting a 24-hour Hackathon that starts on April 16. The theme will be Artificial Intelligence & Cyber and the preliminary response has been huge.
  • The CRC Executive Series is designed to bring in thought leaders and prominent tech executives to share their stories. In short, this area is heavy on talent, and we want to highlight and celebrate those game changers to our membership to share their stories of triumphs and tribulations. This may very well also offer CEO or CTO-only dinners as well.
  • Adding those programs with community favorites like BBQ on the Bay, the Black-Eyed Susan Tailgate and Tech Tastings means we’ll be busy.

How does the CRC coordinate with the MTC events, and office support?

Chapters like the CRC ideate and create events and programs our community wants; we then bring them to MTC to coordinate the calendar. Our MTC CEO Kelly Schulz and her team have a depth of experience and a large network.

What do you consider to be the CRC’s territory?

Generally speaking, it’s north to Baltimore, south to Prince George’s County, west to Columbia, and east to Queen Anne’s and Kent counties.

What’s your outlook for the region’s tech community this year?

I think it will grow, but I’d like to see more big deals hit the street. There have been a few nice exits of founders who started their businesses here and it would be fun for someone to announce an initial public offering, for instance, to hold the spotlight on the region’s successes.

We’re due. We simply need to take that next step where we don’t just grow companies, we boost them along to be major players that are involved in big deals.

What bills are you following during session ’24?

We’ll be most intently following four bills:

  • HB 410: Maryland Technology Development Corp.: Equitech Growth Fund/Alterations
  • HB 567 (SB 541): Maryland Online Data Privacy Act of 2024
  • HB 582 (SB 473): Economic Development, Entrepreneurial Innovation Programs Establishment (Pava LaPere Legacy of Innovation Act of 2024)
  • HB 685 (SB 516): Economic Development: Maryland Aerospace & Technology Commission

What are Maryland’s strengths in the tech field?

Our universities, colleges and community colleges have launched us to where we are today. Innovation economies seem to sprout out from areas with great universities and colleges.

But while the state does allocate money to help kick-start companies, I think we need to allocate money to help grow an investor class of state citizens (and even those from other states) who can help propel them forward.

Growing an investor class may help us not necessarily be the next Silicon Valley, but maybe the new Chesapeake Crescent if we include our neighbors to the north and south.

What’s the biggest challenge for tech companies doing business in Maryland?

Taxes and workforce are the biggest I hear most.

What state has an ideal setup for its tech companies?

Maryland has the potential to have a fantastic setup because we do a great job allocating money to many different area incubators and accelerators. But there is the issue concerning taxes, as well as the effectiveness of statewide economic development efforts.

For instance, I know a few too many Maryland-born entrepreneurs who will not or cannot start their companies here. On the other hand, many states in the south and to the west have opened their arms to compete for a company’s business.

A real positive for Maryland, however, is that universities, colleges and community colleges put together great programs that attract highly educated professionals. We just have to find a way to keep them here. One of the best ways is to have successful technology companies grow to attract this highly-skilled talent.

We also see how more resources need to be allocated to those growing, middle-market tech companies, because the workforce and follow-on funding get constricted as these companies grow. We also need to do a better job of promoting and educating the market about investment opportunities with tech companies.

Do you think we’ll ever see an entity like Howard County’s Maryland Innovation Center that caters to tech companies and beyond in Annapolis?

I certainly think it’s possible. We’ve been in many discussions that may pave the way for a center for innovation or entrepreneurship.

Are you seeing AI starting to influence the market?

We are seeing many startups adopting (or planning to adopt) AI into their operations. The ultimate questions are, “What truly constitutes an AI company?” And “Are you an AI company because you are using OpenAI’s platform or are you innovating the next best AI tool?”

Another dynamic is how AI services can help Maryland businesses. This is where we see tremendous value as a tech council ― when sharing information on how AI can help the general business community. That’s part of why we’ve scheduled the 5th Tech Transformation Summit on Feb. 29 at Maryland Live! Casino.

What’s the climate for startups that are looking for funding?

There is some money out there, but the checks are slow to come. I think inflation from 2023 and higher interest rates have put the brakes on liquidity and have tempered risk appetite, especially after the bank debacles from last year. However, with the markets rallying and inflation seemingly in control, I hope to see money really start flowing.

What types of activity are we seeing in the venture capital market?

There have been quite a few venture capital funds that have popped up. Right now, generally speaking, across the country there are more VC funds than quality deals. I think we’re seeing a dynamic where founders who had a tough run during the lockdowns and more recent economic challenges have positioned themselves well into the venture community.

So, I see I lot of young funds and general partners. However, there are still the mainstays who’ve kept investing.

Have you and Alpha Pointe Capital worked with many CRC companies?

The short answer is yes ― with our services for 401(k) and also with our wealth management services for founders and executives. We’ve been in this tech ecosystem since 2012 and have supported, developed and built relationships in emerging industries across the state and beyond, and intend to remain a fixture in the tech community.