Friday, July 29, 2016

Start-ups, diversity and oysters

With the rambunctious proclamations made at yesterday's Port Covington hearing still in my ear, I wished the pastors dividing the world so neatly into us and them  could see how diverse millennials and young entrepreneurs can be. That was on display when Baltimore start-up community members networked at Spark, a place providing space for parts of the Baltimore Start-up Eco system that opened here in January as a part of Village Capital. The event, presenting a nationwide cohort of 2016 education start-ups, had its own hashtag #vilcapEdUS and featured nuts, oysters, fingerfood and beer and wine.

The international group Village Capital is in a partnership with Johns Hopkins and has recently selected Baltimore as a location for a branch office (Spark). 
Opening of Sparks in January 2016

The partnership is part of the firm’s VilCap Communities program, which focuses on cities with emerging startup communities that have historically been overlooked by mainstream venture capital investors. Baltimore was one of 16 cities selected for the program.
“We didn’t choose the communities we thought needed the most help, but the ones we thought were the best for entrepreneurs,” said Jared Marquette, who manages the VilCap Communities program.
Honolulu, Nashville, New Orleans, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., are among the other cities selected for the program. (JHU Technology Ventures)
VilCap's signature is peer selection of the companies to be funded, i.e. it is making investments as decided by cohort members. The topic of the evening: Education and bridging the gap between employment and education. A more traditional term for this is workforce development, precisely one of the items the BUILD coalition wants to see as part of approving TIFs for Sagamore.
Nasir Qadree, Head of Education at Village Capital

Of course, angel capital ventures usually include also large corporations ("them"). One of the companies sponsoring certain Village Capital activities is ATT which is investing $350 million in the educational initiatives nationwide.
Today [June 16, 2016] Village Capital in collaboration with AT&T, as part of AT&T Aspire, announced the full cohort of entrepreneurs participating in Village Capital’s “Education: US 2016,” a venture development program to support early-stage entrepreneurs bridging the skills gap between education and employment.
“Education is the passport to a high-paying job, but too many students lack the academic resources and opportunities to position them for success,” said Nasir Qadree, Head of Education at Village Capital. “The 12 entrepreneurs in our Education US 2016 cohort represent the top early-stage ventures today tackling academic success and career-readiness. We’re excited to connect them with the mentors and resources they need to scale their ideas.” (ATT)
The 12 startup firms selected to join the three-month program were all present at at Spark. Each presented their start-up and its mission.

  • Centric Learning HERO is a project-based student centric learning approach that builds on strengths - a uniquely effective curriculum and teaching method.
  • College Ease is a Unique engagement and marketing platform that connects high school students worldwide with colleges starting freshman year of high school.
  • Comprendio is a cognitive mapping, accountability for learner thinking, automated feedback, and unique analytics platform to accelerate understanding.
  • Couragion inspire underserved & underrepresented youth to pursue competencies & careers in science, technology, engineering & math.
  • Education Modified delivers cutting-edge, research-based strategies and analytics for every learning need in today’s classrooms.
  • LaborX helps high need talent connect to living wage jobs.
  • Nepris virtually invites industry professionals into the classroom to bring real world relevance to curriculum topics, to help evaluate student projects and to engage and inspire students in STEAM!
  • Pairin is an essential personal and professional skills management system transforming how we work, relate and educate.
  • Paragon One is the #1 American career education platform powered by U.S. professionals-turned-career coaches
  • Skill Scout changes how companies attract and hire talent through video job descriptions and hands on interviews
  • Story2 makes college application writing easier through personal stories
  • Yenko sells financial retention software to colleges that lose tuition revenue when students drop out as a result of losing financial aid.
The presentations were followed by a panel discussion which featured Goldie Blumenstyk, Senior Writer at The Chronicle of Higher Education  as the moderator and Frank Bonsal of Towson University (Entrepreneurship), Baltimore County School Superintendent Dallas Dance and Zach Postner of McGraw Hill who discussed what works and what doesn't in pre and post secondary education.

Dallas Dance made the most memorable statements such as that "we haven't gotten our head around the fact that the last 25 years 50% of the jobs are jobs that didn't exist before", "the purpose of schooling is access", "we have to totally rethink what high school looks like" and "we are now talking about race and class in Baltimore County. If you know the histoiry of this region you can imagine how hard this is".

Topics included unbundling education, the bureaucratic hurdles of licensure  and regulations, intrapreneurs  versus entrepreneurs and a competency marketplace.

Everyone in the room seemed to be intent on finding innovative pathways forward in full recognition of race, class, inequality and uneven access. It was refreshing to see a hugely diverse group engage in finding solutions without any shrillness or vitriol and most importantly without taking the status quo for granted.

That Village Capital chose Baltimore as a location based on as it was said that it "was best for entrepreneurs" is encouraging. Even more encouraging is that following the call to start a business is no longer just heard by young white males but women and men of all colors and backgrounds. This bodes well for West Baltimore's Innovation Village.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

related Articles on this blog:

Innovation Village
Innovation Village- What's next?
Baltimore- "The best place to change the world"
Innovation week Baltimore
Design for Social Innovation

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