Baltimore, because of a curious mixture of geographic positioning, educated talent, proximity to pork, and determined capital, is poised to become a crucial part of the East Coast technology cluster.

The city, which was long rarely noticed and underserved, is ideally positioned to take advantage of the startup economy for several key reasons. Here are four of them.

1. Geographic positioning.

Baltimore is less than three hours by train from Washington, D.C., New York City, and Philadelphia, and less than four from Boston. It is the classic "East Coast day trip" city, which has profound implications: It means Baltimore companies can be an active and daily part of the New York-centric East Coast cluster, without suffering New York's high cost of operations and very high salaries for talent.

This also means that regional angel investors and venture capitalists from nearby states--particularly New York--can evaluate Baltimore companies as "local startups," which far increases their likelihood of investment and mentorship. I include myself in that assessment; leveraging a strong local network in Baltimore to invest is far easier for me from New York than similar efforts on the West Coast.

"Baltimore's proximity to both D.C. and NYC provides ample opportunities for startups to grow and thrive," said Elizabeth Galbut of A-Level Capital, which is a student-run fund investing in companies with a Johns Hopkins associated founder.

2. Educated talent.

All great startup cities have strong universities and a glut of educated workers, and Baltimore is no exception--indeed, it's a clear leader in this area.

Johns Hopkins--my own alma mater and one of the world's leading research and engineering schools--the University of Maryland, the University of Baltimore, and others all create a wealth of educated talent for growing startups, particularly, but hardly exclusively, in health care.

Baltimore also benefits here from its geographic proximity: Graduates from the best universities in Philadelphia--University of Pennsylvania, Temple, Drexel--and Washington--Georgetown, George Washington--view Baltimore as a morning commute away, rather than a major move.

Several of the companies I have funded in Baltimore have directly taken advantage of these schools' proximity to hire top talent at very affordable rates, and we encourage our companies to recruit locally due to both its cost and cultural benefits.

"Because of its very long history as the home of highly successful entrepreneurs, scientists, and artists, Baltimore's DNA is infused with energetic people collaborating to do amazing things. It's a place that incubates great ideas because of an amazing work ethic," said Baltimore angel investor Ken Karpay.  

3. Proximity to pork.

While Silicon Valley benefits from the fatty drippings of its tech behemoths--namely routine acquisitions from Google, Facebook, and the like--Baltimore benefits from being very close to the source of federal contracts and research grants.

The state of Maryland itself is also quite generous in this regard. Several of my best Baltimore companies have simultaneously pursued grants from the NIH, NSF, and SBIRs in Washington and Tedco and MVF in Maryland, which has dramatically increased their potential for success.

"Baltimore has achieved a critical mass of startups and early-stage companies, a culture of community from support entrepreneurs that have 'been there and done that,' and a quality of life that is attracting young professionals. Combine this with increasingly active angel and seed investors--Tedco completed 35 investments last year--and what you have are ingredients needed to continue Baltimore's astounding growth in its entrepreneurial and innovation communities," said Robert Rosenbaum, president of Tedco, which uses state capital and invests small six-figure tranches in early-stage local companies.

4. Determined capital.

Baltimore also has one of the best capital bases of any mini-cluster. In addition to being accessible to New York City and (to a lesser degree) Boston angel and venture capital, Baltimore has its own homegrown and increasingly determined capital base. Large funds Greenspring and Camden Partners are beginning to look more closely at the early stage, including working closely with Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures.

My own syndicate, Blue Jay, routinely works with Tedco, Baltimore Angels, and others to serve as a regular and dependable early stage capital source.

"We at Camden Partners are now adding permanent venture capital in Baltimore with our newest Exelixis Fund focused in seed stage investing in this area," said George Petrochelios of Camden Partners.

Published on: Jan 5, 2016