Urban architectural design. Video storytelling for the web. Virtual music lessons via video chat. A new kind of social network to connect strangers with other people who share interests.
These are just a few of the services and products being created at Baltimore’s Emerging Technology Centers, a technology incubator and a venture of the Baltimore development corporation.
“We provide economic development services through our technology incubation to help not only the companies grow, but provide an economic impact for Baltimore City,” said Deborah Tillet, President of ETC.
An incubator in biology helps to cultivate cells in a controlled environment. ETC works in a similar way, entrepreneurs come to ETC in the infancy of their business; most only have an idea. If the staff of ETC thinks the idea can be successful and that the business can benefit from the services it offers, they will suggest that the entrepreneur become a member.
“We surround the entrepreneur with services, mentoring and a triage approach,” Tillet said. “The entrepreneur gets what they need when they need it, at whatever stage they are in their company development.”
There are a variety of membership types that vary in price. Entrepreneurs can become a resident of ETC and take office space at their locations in Canton or Johns Hopkins Eastern or become a virtual member of the incubator. Both of these options offer mentoring, educational clinics and conference space. ETC even offers the general public the opportunity to rent a desk by the day, week or month in its “Beehive.”
“It’s like being in grad school,” said Mike Burton, president of Urban Design Group, a sustainable architectural design firm. “The business owners talk to each other. It really becomes a fraternity of owners. It is a special place.”
The businesses that reside in ETC work alongside each other in a loft style space in individual offices.
“The ETC is really good at linking you with people in the business community who you may not know,” said Burton.
It was at ETC where Burton met John Sherman, CEO of Storyfarm, a media production company which specializes in video storytelling for the web. Even though Burton and Sherman’s companies are completely different, the two became friends.
When both companies graduated from ETC in February of 2013, they moved in together to a new office space in Fells Point.
“We talk about what works in our business and what doesn’t work in our business on the day to day, even though our businesses are very different,” Burton said.
Currently, ETC is home to 85 companies, about 70 percent of which are in the information technology field.
Entrepreneurs come to ETC from a variety of backgrounds. Some like Eric Eller, Co-founder & CEO of SameGrain, had already worked at a different company in ETC before starting their own. SameGrain is a social networking website which privately connects users based on their interests.
“It’s great to be in a community of other start-ups,” said Eller. “Having the community of other early stage companies is beneficial in a lot of ways. It’s the ideas and the opportunity to collaborate.”
Others found ETC through classic direct marketing.
“I wanna say we found the ETC through a promotional email or an entrepreneurial event,” said Matt Halpern, co-founder of Bandhappy, a virtual booking agency for music teachers. Bandhappy connects traveling musicians with their students via video chat when they are not available for face to face lessons.
Halpern, a touring musician for over six years, needed a way to make extra money while on tour. He put out ads for students in the cities he was performing in and before a show he would give a music lesson to a fan. Eventually, Halpern started to help other musicians find students on the web and would even help them connect virtually via video chat
“I knew there had to be a way to do it in a less cumbersome way,” Halpern said.
So he came to the ETC and co-founded Bandhappy.
“[ETC] helped us with getting presentations together, they’ve [analyzed] some of our contracts for us and gave us a lot of advice,” Haplern said.
Bandhappy now is host to just over 1,000 teachers and has almost 20,000 students registered.
In 2012, Bandhappy partnered with the Vans Warped Tour, connecting musicians that were performing at the music festival with attendees to give lessons before going on stage. Halpern said that Bandhappy will again partner with the Warped Tour in 2013 and hopefully expand to other festivals.
“The sky is the limit. There’s really so many amazing things we could do with this company,” he said. “Just today we had a student in Singapore, connecting with a teacher in Sweden. That’s all the way across the world, but they are meeting up live via video chat in their respective times and made the world a lot smaller for everyone.”
The sky really has been the limit for some of the companies started at ETC. One of those, Millennial Media, started at ETC in 2006 and in February of 2012, they had an initial public offering on the stock exchange and have a market value at over one billion dollars.
“Six years, four people, a billion dollars,” Tillet said. “We have a pretty good track record of keeping the businesses in business and having them continue in the city of Baltimore.”