Tag: startup

Startups

Yair Flicker and Margaret Roth: Why We’re Launching a…

Yair Flicker and Margaret Roth: Why We’re Launching
a Venture Program to Grow Startups in Baltimore

July 10, 2019

As Johns Hopkins graduates and entrepreneurs who have grown companies over the last decade in Baltimore City, we have seen many choices that lead to success for startups as well as those that lead to failure.

Yair Flicker
Yair Flicker

While some startups fail because of a lack of market fit, or due to competition or scale issues, one of the most painful types of failure for us to see is uninformed technical decisions leading to bad product development, wasting time and money. We believe that with the right technical guidance, startups can make the correct technical choices the first time around.

When we were at Johns Hopkins, being a student entrepreneur or a startup co-founder wasn’t a thing people talked about. There was no innovation lab or Lunch and Learn with founders or pitch competition. There was no FastForward or Makerspace or, for that matter, Brody Learning Commons. In other words, there was none of the supportive infrastructure, and there were no resources, to help students get ideas off the ground and turn them into companies. But after meeting our co-founders, creating real ideas worth investing in during our 20s, and finding a community of entrepreneurs and builders across the city, we decided to stay in Baltimore after graduation.

Our decision meant many things. It could be harder to raise capital or connect with customers, for one. But it also meant we could become part of a tight-knit community of aspiring entrepreneurs and dreamers. It meant that when we needed help, we were one degree away from someone who would move us forward. And it meant that as our companies continued to grow, we would have the opportunity to give back and help other entrepreneurs and founders start validating their ideas and designing the technical solutions to bring their businesses to market.

That’s why this summer, our company, SmartLogic, is offering an opportunity for one startup to bypass the technical failure point through $400,000 in product development investment and mentorship from the SmartVentures program.

Margaret Roth
Margaret Roth

We see SmartVentures as an opportunity that brings together value on several fronts. The startup gets access to the technology development and mentorship it needs to scale, getting around some of the limitations of the smaller capital market here in the mid-Atlantic. SmartLogic, in turn, gets equity and a chance to see some of the gains from a company we’ve helped build by investing time and expertise. And we help grow the local startup ecosystem — the winning company must be located in or relocate to Baltimore.

We’re looking for a startup that is ready to grow, that is past its initial minimal viable product, and that has market traction in the form of revenue but is constrained by a need for product development and technical expertise. Our goal is to work with the winning company over the next year to 18 months to build a scalable product, help it find and hire full-time technical staff and get to the next big growth stage, like raising its next round of funding.

Applications are being accepted now, and we’ll review entries through Aug. 30. We hope to see lots of Johns Hopkins University teams apply, as we learned so much there of what we needed to be successful.

Yair Flicker (master’s degree in computer science, 2006), started SmartLogic, which develops web and mobile apps, in 2005 in his apartment with a friend and classmate. Margaret Roth (master’s degree in teaching, 2012; bachelor’s degree in English, literature and environmental Earth science, 2011), made friendships in a school of education classroom in 2011 that would become Yet Analytics. Today, they serve on the board of ETC Baltimore and work to support the next generation of Baltimore startup founders.

Connect with Flicker on LinkedIn or at yair@smartlogic.io. Contact Roth on LinkedIn or at margaret@smartlogic.io.

FastForward U

For Peabody Student, Entrepreneurship Is ‘Blismo’

For Peabody Student, Entrepreneurship Is ‘Blismo’

June 27, 2019

Like some other undergraduates at Johns Hopkins, Ian Blanchardon has been working on a business idea when he is not attending to classwork. Unlike many other undergraduates, Blanchardon’s classwork involves making music.

Blanchardon is a senior majoring in guitar at the Peabody Institute of The Johns Hopkins University and practices for six hours a day. But when he’s not playing, he is running Blismo, a mobile payment app with a growing footprint in Baltimore.

Ian Blanchardon (courtesy of Ian Blanchardon)

“I have some classmates who think I’m crazy. I beg to disagree,” Blanchardon says.

Blanchardon describes Blismo as “Honey for brick-and-mortar establishments,” referring to an app that finds discount codes as users shop online. Two dozen bars, restaurants and shops in the Baltimore area now accept discounts through Blismo, according to Blanchardon, and the app also allows users to redeem their discounts by paying through Blismo as well as meet up with fellow users. No fees or charges are involved.

Blismo has more than 200 users in Baltimore; it aims to have 1,000 by the fall and then 10,000 users along the East Coast by next spring, according to Blanchardon. The company also is looking to add supermarkets and eventually department stores and hotels to its list of participating retailers.

Blanchardon plans to host events open to the public at several venues that accept Blismo payments, and the company plans to expand to New Haven, Connecticut, by December. The app will be getting large updates by the end of the year as well, according to Mao Li, Blismo’s co-founder and chief technology officer.

Blanchardon began working on Blismo three years ago. The idea came to him after a visit to China, where he saw people using a mobile app to purchase products and meet people. Blanchardon learned from an investor in late 2018 about FastForward U, Johns Hopkins’ hub for student entrepreneurship.

“It’s been a great opportunity for Blismo,” he says. “We have had access to a great space and resources to promote our business in Baltimore.”

Kevin Carter, FastForward U’s student ventures coordinator, says Blanchardon now is a “frequent flyer” at the Homewood building.

“He’s a great example of a student who is taking full advantage of our resources,” says Carter, “whether using our conference rooms for meetings with potential clients or making high-quality Blismo swag with the laser cutter and vinyl printer in our makerspace.”

Of the 1,200 students who have visited FastForward U since July 1, Blanchardon is one of just a handful from Peabody. But Carter notes FastForward U is ready to help any Johns Hopkins student from any school who reaches out wanting to develop or pursue an idea.

“We work with students creating consumer products, eco-friendly technologies, nonprofits and much more,” he says. “Our FastForward U student entrepreneurs reflect the diverse passions and skillsets of JHU students as a whole.”

Blanchardon has been playing guitar concerts since he was 8 years old and says he has been marketing himself as a musician ever since. He sees the similarities between making music and launching a startup.

“Whenever you play a piece, you always think: ‘How have others done it? And how can I do it better?’” he says. “The keys to success are persistence, ambition and flexibility to any venture one enters, whether it be music or business.”

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