Innovation Districts

“The trend is to nurture living, breathing communities rather than sterile remote, compounds of research silos.” 

–Pete Engardio, “Research Parks for the Knowledge Economy,” Bloomberg Businessweek

Baltimore is recognized as one of the global cities where innovation districts are emerging. The districts are identified as being different than the likes of Silicon Valley, which is in a suburban sector, somewhat isolated and without the benefits a city provides such as greater access to mixed-use housing, diverse retail, and other work environs.

The Brookings Institute definition of an Innovation District: Geographic areas where leading-edge anchor institutions and companies cluster and connect with start-ups, business incubators, and accelerators. They are also physically compact, transit-accessible, and technically wired and offer mixed-use housing, office and retail.

Baltimore’s industrial history and how our communities traditionally balanced work, home and social life is not dissimilar to Innovation Districts. Families lived near production plants, with many walking to work. Markets were close to homes, as were schools and other merchants. Life was centered in a series of blocks and the community supported itself.

The modern version also demands support. And within these communities you find cultural and economic diversity which is reshaping cities around the world in a very positive way. Breaking down economic barriers, blending communities and cultural differences are what make Baltimore an attractive city to millennials. Our young adults want to live in areas that share life experiences. It is from these diverse experiences we grow emotionally and spiritually.

West Baltimore’s Innovation District encompasses seven square-miles and is set to transform Reservoir Hill; a neighborhood filled with historic homes and a creative class of innovators. The Mount Royal Community Development Corporation (MRCDC) was formed by a group of neighbors who saw not only potential, but a dynamic future for their beloved community. They are building an Innovation District in an area that has struggled in past – recognizing its potential – these entrepreneurs are connecting talent with resources and capital.

Baltimore’s Emerging Technology Centers (ETC) focuses on being a resource for new ideas and the people who drive them. In addition to co-working space and support systems, ETC offers a program titled AccelerateBaltimore, which is a 13-week program with $25,000 seed funding. Its location is perfectly located amid mass transit, cultural institutions, mixed-use housing, restaurants and entertainment. It is a magnet for entrepreneurs and fresh ideas.

Betamore’s mission is to make Baltimore a leading global entrepreneurship destination. Established in 2012, their members have raised close to $53 million in venture capital. The average startup company working out of Betamore hires a new employee every 13 days. Their education programs aim is to fill the gap between a traditional liberal arts education and the demand for 21st century jobs.

The Science + Technology Park at Johns Hopkins in East Baltimore, once completed, will offer over one million square feet of office and facilities designed to meet the needs of early-stage companies to those that are growing, as well as larger established firms. This development defines Innovation District. It is geographically accessible, offers diverse housing options, is welcoming to different cultures, is close to high-quality education for elementary and middle-grade students, offers cultural enrichment programs for families in the neighborhood, and has a community park under development. All this and it is in an Enterprise Zone. The development is revitalizing East Baltimore in a thoughtful and exceptional way.

FastForward is an accelerator at Johns Hopkins, which serves as a catalyst for the advancement and commercialization of innovations that originated at the University and elsewhere. The goal of FastForward is to help early ventures increase the likelihood of realizing their potential and bring new and life-changing technologies to market by providing them with: education, mentorship, business services and affordable space, including shared and dedicated lab space.

The UM BioPark is a12-acre area on the west side of the University of Maryland’s campus, which will consist of 1.8 million square feet of lab and office space in 12 buildings plus garage parking and landscaped parks once completed. Its mission is to create a university-associated research park that accelerates biotechnology commercialization and economic development in the surrounding community and throughout the region. The BioPark was the first expansion by the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) across the wide, busy thoroughfare that is Martin Luther King Boulevard. This expansion will help bridge the BioPark’s neighboring communities to the rest of the campus and Baltimore’s central business district.

Baltimore is also home to hacker spaces such as Baltimore Hackerspace and Baltimore Node. Both are 501(c)(3) charitable organizations that meet weekly, share tools and space all the while socializing, learning from one another, collaborating and building.

The recent opening of SPARK adds to the dynamic of Baltimore’s tech community. It is not about exclusivity or cliques but rather about connecting people to move ideas forward.

Inc. magazine recognized Baltimore as a surprising hub for tech startups. Four key reasons were listed: geographic positioning (Washington D.C., New York City, and Philadelphia); educated talent; proximity to pork (close to federal contracts and research grants); and determined capital (venture capital firms are investing).

A recent CBRE report placed Baltimore at number 8 among the 10 largest U.S. markets for tech talent. The coverage also listed Baltimore as the number 1 tech hub that should be on the radar of any job-seeking tech worker, but probably isn’t.

Forbes ranks Baltimore 8th on its list of America’s Most Wired Cities for internet broadband adoption and the availability of public wireless hot spots. The magazine ranks Baltimore 6th on its list of best cities for tech jobs.

There is a reason Baltimore is getting noticed: the professional tech and user communities are strong – creative – and living in the city. The sharing of ideas versus CVs makes for interesting conversations that build upon these innovators visions. Baltimore tech people are moving technology forward.

This link to a map of Baltimore tech companies is worth viewing: Beyond the locations of startups, accelerators, incubators, and coworking locations, there is also location information on investors, services, and links to job opportunities. 

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