Claire Broido Johnson, COO of Fermata Energy
When Claire Broido Johnson started working at the U.S. Department of Energy in 2009, one colleague compared her arrival to “a hurricane hitting the building.” Less than a decade after earning a Harvard MBA, she had already structured, managed and analyzed energy-related projects around the world and co-founded a company that would grow into the world’s largest solar energy services provider, SunEdison. DoE was her first government job, and she was tasked to shift a sleepy office of 20 employees into an efficient distributor of more than $11 billion in stimulus funding without any waste, fraud or abuse. The money reached over 2,000 grantees ahead of schedule.
That’s the drive that Broido Johnson brought to her management of the University System of Maryland’s $10 million Maryland Momentum Fund (MMF), aimed at early-stage companies with ties to the system.
Named managing director in July 2019, Broido Johnson was charged with a two-fold mission: making money for the system through investment in nascent companies affiliated with the system (pre-seed through Series A), and helping to grow the entrepreneurial community across the state. Since she joined, MMF invested in 17 companies.
“I really love building, growing, and developing start-ups, so the MMF is a great platform by which to use my skills and invest in companies,” she said. “It’s a great university with a lot of interesting ideas coming out of it. The community, including its alumni, are incredibly entrepreneurial.”
Reaching wide to support entrepreneurs
Broido Johnson moved to Baltimore in 2002 to work for Constellation, and started SunEdison LLC here. With a passion for the city – “I love all things Baltimore,” she writes on the website of her current company CBJ Energy – she dove into the innovation community. Today she works with two local investor groups, Baltimore Angels and the broader Blu Ventures, supports innovation hubs such as Betamore and ETC (Emerging Technology Centers), and judges business-plan contests across the region.
The wide reach is purposeful as she works to bolster not just current entrepreneurs, but also those whose good ideas are still taking shape.
“I spend an extraordinary amount of my time supporting entrepreneurs who are not ready for our investment, but could be if they get the right mentorship and support,” she said.
To date, the sector-agnostic MMF has invested in 25 companies – typically between $250,000 and $500,000.
These investments include enterprises such as KaloCyte, a Baltimore-based firm that is developing an artificial red blood cell that can be used to treat potentially deadly blood loss when blood stores are not an option; and NextStep Robotics, also based in Baltimore, which provides a therapeutic answer to foot drop syndrome in recovering stroke patients.
“So many people I know are working in Silicon Valley or in Boston, but there are other parts of the country that need MBA skills, too,” she reflected. “I’ve worked for organizations outside of Baltimore, but it feels good to focus more locally.”