Category: Startups


Steve Case at Anchor Ventures Kickoff: Collaboration Key for…

Steve Case at Anchor Ventures Kickoff: Collaboration Key for Success of Baltimore Startups


Nearly 200 people gathered at FastForward 1812 on February 15 as Steve Case, a co-founder of AOL and the chairman and CEO of Washington D.C. investment firm Revolution, discussed Baltimore’s potential as a startup hub.

Case’s fireside chat marked the kickoff of Anchor Ventures—a monthly series funded by TEDCO and run by Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures, and the University System of Maryland to facilitate valuable relationships among Maryland’s innovators, entrepreneurs, investors and ecosystem builders.

The standing-room-only event marked Case’s return to a FastForward innovation hub, having visited FastForward East as part of his 2015 Rise of the Rest bus tour, a nationwide effort to work closely with entrepreneurs in emerging startup ecosystems. TEDCO CEO George Davis interviewed Case, focusing on Baltimore’s past, present and future as an innovation hotbed.

“I remember when I was here two and a half years ago. It was inspiring to see some of the momentum that was building,” Case said to the crowd. “It’s great to be back and to see how much progress has been made.”

Though Baltimore’s innovation ecosystem is maturing, Case sees strategic collaboration as a necessary catalyst for continued development. He says “hyperconnectivity” has helped Silicon Valley thrive and seems to be emerging in Baltimore through initiatives like Anchor Ventures.

The next great startup ecosystem will rise, Case says, because communities, local governments, anchor institutions, investors, entrepreneurs and innovators adopt a Silicon Valley mindset in which disbelief is suspended and opportunities are identified.

“The only question is if the community is there to seize the moment,” Case says.

Case used Detroit and Silicon Valley to illustrate his point. Seventy-five years ago, Detroit rode automobile manufacturing to become one of the hottest, most innovative cities in the country. As Motor City flourished, orchards covered the San Francisco Bay Area. “(Silicon Valley) wasn’t growing startups, it was growing fruit,” Case says. “Things can change.”

While much of Baltimore has lamented Amazon’s decision to exclude the city from its list of finalists for its second headquarters, Case sees opportunity in the city’s wholehearted attempt. The city’s anchor institutions, government agencies, entrepreneurs and others collaborated to submit a unified and strong proposal.

“How do you take that same framework and keep fighting?” Case asks. “While Amazon is a unique opportunity and fighting to bring it here it makes sense, the better strategy is creating an ecosystem that creates the next Amazon.

“I think Baltimore is extremely well positioned to rise in the coming years,” Case says, acknowledging that many other cities across the nation are in similar positions.

The abundance of grit, inspiration and ingenuity found from Baltimore to Boise is the inspiration for creating Rise of the Rest, which identifies and invests in promising startups outside of Silicon Valley, New York and Massachusetts.

“(Rise of the Rest) shines a spotlight on great American cities with great histories and places that have great futures because of their startups,” Case says. “There’s momentum in each of these cities. There’s hope in each of these cities. There’s a recognition that there’s more to be done.”

Earlier this year, Case announced that his investment firm, Revolution, partnered with dozens of renowned investors like Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos to create a $150 million Rise of the Rest seed fund. On Valentine’s Day, Revolution announced that nine startups from nine cities, including Baltimore’s Catalyte, received the first investments from this fund.

“Over time, we believe that (Rise of the Rest) has the potential to help each of these cities rise to the next level,” Case says.

Local perspectives


Joining Steve Case at the inaugural Anchor Ventures event was a group of Baltimore’s innovation ecosystem builders. In a panel discussion moderated by JHTV’s Christy Wyskiel, these builders shared signs of progress, words of encouragement and calls to action.
Deb Tillet of ETC
On Baltimore entrepreneurs’ needs: “Access to the three C’s: capital, connections, creativity. And now two other C’s: craft beer and coffee.”

On making connections: “In this city and this place and state, you are one degree of separation from anyone you need to know.”
Richard May of Innovation Village
On comprehensive engagement and collaboration: “Baltimore can’t win if we only put three players on an 11-player field.”
Demian Costa of Sagamore Ventures
On Baltimore’s many strengths: “We have to focus the energy we have in these different areas. We have to celebrate wins. Great things will come.”

The Anchor Ventures series continues on March 15 at Columbus Center (701 E Pratt St, Baltimore, MD) with “Healing Hearts: Harpoon Medical’s Solution Story.” Save the date and visit the Anchor Ventures site or follow us on Twitter for more updates.


Meet the Entrepreneur

Meet the Entrepreneur: Mera Kitchen Collective Cooks Up Opportunity…

Meet the Entrepreneur: Mera Kitchen Collective Cooks Up Opportunity in Baltimore

From 2000 to 2014, Baltimore saw its immigrant population more than double, reaching 45,000 (approximately 7 percent of the city’s population). This influx of foreign arrivals led the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program to call Baltimore a “reemerging gateway.”

Easing the transition for many of these refugees and immigrants is Mera Kitchen Collective. As a community-driven, food-based cooperative, Mera Kitchen Collective amplifies the skills and passions of Baltimore’s immigrants and refugees as well as ensures that that population has access to critical resources and opportunities.

To further the mission, Mera Kitchen Collective, a member of the Social Innovation Lab’s 2017-2018 cohort, hosts pop-up events at local restaurants and farmers’ markets and leads cooking classes to showcase the story and cuisine of different chefs who have come to Baltimore from places around the world.

Below, the founders of Mera Kitchen Collective (Emily Lerman, Brittany DeNovellis, Liliane Makole, Megan Murray, Iman Alshehab and Aishah AlFadhalah) share their thoughts about the cooperative’s mission, Baltimore and the best food in the city.

In a few words, what does Mera Kitchen Collective do?

We operate a worker-owned cooperative supporting refugees and immigrants.

What are your goals and how will you get there?

Our goal is to provide opportunities for entrepreneurism to refugee and immigrant women. We have been hosting pop-up events to test our business model, skills and capacity. We hope to be present at farmers’ markets for the upcoming season. Our end goal is a brick and mortar location that will serve not just as a restaurant, but also a community gathering place.

Why have you chosen Baltimore as your startup’s home?

We love Baltimore! We are all Baltimore City residents, and we know a supportive, welcoming and talented pool of fellow-entrepreneurs live here. Of course we would choose Baltimore!

What opportunities make Baltimore a good place to grow a business?

The supportive small business community here in Baltimore has welcomed us with open arms. The city’s residents have consistently supported our events and our women. It’s the community in Baltimore that makes it special – we all came from other places and now call Baltimore home, so we know that this city is unique in its ability to provide support.

In terms of startups and innovation, what’s one thing that separates Baltimore from other tech hotbeds?

Baltimore’s concentration of top-level higher education paired with its size make it ideal for starting something innovative. Startups here have the resources of some of the country’s best colleges and universities, their faculty and their students…combined with a city that’s big enough to be impressive, but not so big that you can’t make waves with your idea. Baltimore is really ideal!

If you could give your past selves one piece of advice for creating a startup, what would it be?

Connect more. We have been so lucky in the group that we have and the unique experiences and connections that we each bring to the table. These not only help us along the way, but they also inform so many of our decisions as a group.

What innovator do you look up to? Why?

We look up to other worker-owners and worker-owned cooperatives. The fine folks at the Baltimore Roundtable for Economic Democracy (BRED) and Red Emma’s have worked with us to help us form our business model and help us refine our decision making as a group. We look up to these groups because they have actively chosen equity; we admire those who put people first.

It’s after a long day of work. Where do you choose to eat dinner?

It’s so hard to choose among so many A+ options! We might grab a bite at Hersh’s in Federal Hill, or head to Clavel for incredible tacos…or Iman might have us over to her house and cook us a homemade meal. We are spoiled in our options!

What’s your favorite non-work-related thing to do in Baltimore?

​Each one of us had a different answer to this question. For some of us, the answer is spending time at Baltimore’s incredible museums; others of us love Baltimore’s innovative food scene. There’s so much love about Baltimore that it’s hard to choose just one thing among six unique people.

Meet the Social Innovation Lab’s other changemakers!


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