Ken Malone believes in creating sustainable operating businesses and has little interest in answering the ‘how will you exit’ question.
The executive officer of Early Charm Ventures has built a talented team that has changed the rules around operating new ventures in areas of drug design, custom materials, aquaculture technologies, and engineered products. Today, Early Charm owns and operates over 20 ventures focused on making and selling products.
Malone, after completing his dissertation in polymer science, began his career by working his way through the operations side of global chemical conglomerates. He then returned to his alma mater, the University of Southern Mississippi, where he ran the operations of the Gulf Coast campus, founded the National Center for Economic Development & Entrepreneurship, chaired the Department of Economic & Workforce Development and helped to create a research park.
While at Southern Miss, Malone became heavily engaged in running startups. Alongside his wife, Kelli Booth, a chemical engineer and serial entrepreneur, he created the venture studio model that forms the basis for Early Charm’s business today.
In 2012, Malone and Booth committed full time to the venture studio model and sought out a “bigger stage” for the effort. Their research showed that Baltimore was the perfect place.
“Baltimore and what Maryland has put in place for helping early-stage companies is just hands down the best in the nation. I mean there’s nothing that touches it,” Malone told Technical.ly in 2014. “Between the support of the University of Maryland’s BioPark and what we think is one of the most livable cities in the country, it was hands down for us.”
They rebranded their company as Early Charm and moved it to the University of Maryland BioPark.
Connecting in “Smalltimore”
Though the couple arrived in Baltimore with significant expertise, local connections are a driver of their work and vital to their ability to build quickly.
“There’s no bigger stage for basic research in the world than Baltimore. The move was really starting from scratch since relationships and networks are such an important part of our business,” Malone said. “Fortunately, Baltimore lived up to its ‘Smaltimore’ moniker and we got traction on the business in good time.”
Those connections have not only allowed Malone to foster the success of the companies currently in Early Charm’s portfolio, but also to connect deeply with the entrepreneurial community. He mentors dozens of local entrepreneurs, serves on Innovation Works’ Ignite Fund investment committee, engages with budding entrepreneurs at MICA, IMET, UB, Hopkins, UMB, and UMBC, and leads Early Charm in its efforts with Baltimore Tracks, Coppin State’s Polymer Program, DefTech Center, and the Baltimore Innovation Center.
To accommodate Early Charm’s burgeoning growth, in early 2020, the company consolidated its real estate at a business hub in Baltimore’s Pigtown neighborhood, where it had previously held more than 2,000 square feet of production and laboratory spaces.