In April 2022, we released our second report on Baltimore’s tech ecosystem — A Perspective on Baltimore’s Startup Ecosystem in 2022 — building on the baseline published the previous year. Following is an excerpt from the opening letter of CEO Jamie McDonald.
A year ago, UpSurge launched, not only into the midst of yet another COVID spike, but also into a period of unprecedented change. We saw a workforce untethered from workplaces, the rise of telemedicine, and a deepening recognition of the persistent racial and gender disparities that exist in the US innovation economy. It was also a year in which the stock and housing markets roared, US venture investment nearly doubled and, right here at home, Baltimore’s innovation economy smashed records. The record year highlighted the very real opportunity that exists for cities like Baltimore – if we can lean into the momentum of 2021.
What does that mean? From our perspective, it means equitably expanding the infrastructure to support founders in Baltimore – with capital, networks, talent and expertise. Growing from within our city, and attracting companies, founders and workers from elsewhere. Getting money off the sidelines to invest in our startups and our venture/ PE funds and angel groups. Keeping more talented young people in Baltimore when they graduate from our colleges, and providing on-ramps into tech for all Baltimoreans that want them. As a city, we can’t pick just one path to progress; we need all of the gears turning together if we want to drive progress at scale.
Anchored in the Baltimore community
To do that, UpSurge works alongside partners across the city, region, state and country – leading or supporting initiatives led by others. Our work is always anchored by four key objectives of our 10-year vision, focused on defining Baltimore’s place alongside the world’s leading innovation cities; building on the growing momentum in Baltimore tech to become the country’s first Equitech city; becoming a center of excellence for technologies that can break down barriers to equity and building on-ramps for Baltimoreans from across our city into the knowledge economy, creating pathways of opportunity. One of the surprises of the past year is how quickly this 10-year vision has taken root, inspiring others in Baltimore and beyond.
Ever cheerleaders for local success, we celebrated wide-ranging wins across the ecosystem throughout our first year. Our city is now home to 261 funded startups, up 36% since last year, and they raised an eye-popping $825 million last year, up 161% over 2020′s total. That total far exceeds the amounts raised in cities – such as Detroit or Pittsburgh – to which we’re often compared. And Baltimore saw seven deals greater than $100 million in the past twelve months, compared to only one in the prior five years from 2016-2020.
We’re a long way from equity, but there is progress. Black-led investment funds like RareBreed, Conscious Venture Lab and BearWay Capital are raising funding and visibility for underestimated entrepreneurs. The company-led group Baltimore Tracks is supporting local tech companies’ commitments to new practices related to inclusive hiring. Techstars inaugural Equitech Accelerator graduated 11 companies, all of which were led by diverse cofounders – and at least three of those companies have chosen to stay and grow in Baltimore.
Nothing worthwhile is easy
A transformational vision like Equitech will take endurance and speed; maintaining focus on a 10-year vision, while making consistent, measurable progress week-in and week-out. And it’s definitely not a straight line. We’ve had wins and missteps this year, and we’ve continually re-calibrated our priorities, experimenting, evaluating and often shedding activities that don’t contribute meaningfully to Baltimore’s momentum, with data guiding our decisions.
We are trying to accomplish something that has not been done before in our country: to build a thriving innovation hub, an Equitech city, where rockstar companies led by diverse entrepreneurs are born and thrive, where the tech workforce of the future is growing up in our neighborhoods, and where prosperity is shared across every Zip code. We want to be the center of gravity for the technologies transforming society – not because it’s an obligation, but because it’s an opportunity. When we accomplish this, Baltimore will be a model for the world.
UpSurge released our first Ecosystem Report in 2021, setting the baseline against which our city’s progress can be measured in the years to come.