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Owings Mills company explores the power of failure

Tom Loveland is a failure – and that’s a good thing.

Sharon Paley of gb.tc holds up the “Applausometer” as conference attendees vote by acclamation for the winner of the ‘Fail Off.’

Though the founder and CEO of Owings Mills-based software development company Mind Over Machines was named “Baltimore’s Extraordinary Technology Advocate” in 2010 by the gb.tc, formerly the Greater Baltimore Technology Council, on Friday he earned a different title from the same group.

“It took me a while to figure out ‘Do what you love,’” Loveland told an audience of about 250 people who attended the BmoreFail conference, a first-time event organized by the gb.tc.

Loveland, a gb.tc board member, was one of seven local entrepreneurs who participated in the “Fail Off” portion of the conference, sharing what he called his “messy and confusing” entrepreneurial path. The conference attendees voted by applause on who was the biggest failure, selecting Loveland.

“The conventional wisdom is that in Silicon Valley, failure is expected and a matter of pride,” Loveland said. “The conventional wisdom is that in Baltimore, it is not so much like that.”

But the team behind the BmoreFail conference, held at the Clarence “Du” Burns Arena in Baltimore, wants to change that. Pulling in a group of people from various professions, including business, medicine, aviation and education, the day-long event aimed to address the necessity of being open and honest about failure in order to foster innovation and decrease stigma.

“The idea came from a conversation about Baltimore being a risk-averse community with a long memory,” said Sharon Paley, who organized the event for the gb.tc.

“Gb.tc doesn’t want to see people penalized for daring to do something entrepreneurial, technological, because that’s prohibitive to innovation, and we’re here to foster innovation,” she said.

While some entrepreneurs shared stories of the pitfalls of doing business with friends or making promises they couldn’t keep to clients, Loveland told of failing to find success on the traditional path from college to career, and ultimately following his passion for computers.

“This is my advantage. I used to think it’s a weakness. It’s an advantage,” he said. “I dive deep into things and get into them and solve them very quickly and then find another thing to solve.”

About 40 middle school students from New Era Academy in Cherry Hill also joined the adults.

Brought there by social studies teacher Jessica Gartner, the students talked to attendees about failure, in order to prepare for an upcoming project. The students have been studying Baltimore and will be designing projects to transform an aspect of the city.

“An important part of the design thinking process is being willing to accept failure, and being able to accept risks,” Gartner said.

The BmoreFail conference is the first event of its type for the gb.tc. Paley said she hopes the community will embrace the idea and be open to continuing to find avenues to share stories and advice about failure as an inherent part of success.

“We just hope that there will be a sense communally that everyone fails and that there’s not a long-term stigma associated with failure,” Paley said. “We should celebrate failure because that’s how we’re innovating and that’s how we’re moving forward.”