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Tech entrepreneurs get new collaborative work space

Mike Brenner has a plan. He’s going to “put Baltimore on the map” of the national technology scene.

Betamore’s co-founders, Mike Brenner and Greg Cangialosi, in their incubator facility at 1111 Light Street in Federal Hill.

That’s his vision for Betamore, a collaborative space for technology entrepreneurs that he and his partners opened to the public on Monday out of an unassuming converted row house across from the Cross Street Market.

With its sleek, modern interior and humming equipment, the space couldn’t be more different from the busy public market. Located on the fourth floor of 1111 Light St., which also houses luxury apartments and commercial offices, Betamore is an expansive, bright space with colorful walls adorned with Baltimore-themed art, sliding chalkboards already scribbled with “big ideas,” and plenty of natural light. On one end, a glass-walled room dedicated to full-time members holds enough desks for 48 people, clustered together in groups.

Betamore’s focus, of course, is technology — how to harness it, create new products and market them. Betamore is the bricks and mortar for entrepreneurs who don’t develop physical products. It provides work space conducive to productivity, a collaborative environment and a kitchen counter for the coffee pot.

And although there are several other “co-working” membership-only spaces in the city, several people said Betamore takes a more comprehensive approach. Betamore will offer one-time classes and ongoing courses on such skills and topics as software development and the basics of entrepreneurship.

“What we do different than any other incubator or co-working space in this region is that we also bring in the classroom,” Brenner said. “It’s part of our mission to teach classes out of the space to the community, and to leverage that community … to teach some of those classes.”

“The education aspect of this is definitely next generation,” co-founder Greg Cangialosi said.

“Most of these types of spaces are conducive to collaborative work environments, but this one is different because we have all these aspects working together. …You can come to Betamore and get exposed to entrepreneurship, you can come take a class like “Intro to the Baltimore Tech Community,” and find out about all the resources available here.”

The goal, Brenner said, is to offer education for the community, by the community.

“I wanted to build a space that didn’t exist in Baltimore,” Brenner said.

On Monday, the space was being used by Startup Maryland, an organization dedicated to promoting entrepreneurship and early-stage companies in the state. Julie Lenzer Kirk, Startup Maryland’s co-chair and executive director of the Maryland Center for Entrepreneurship, said she saw Betamore becoming a key player in the business community.

“Entrepreneurship is a very social experience, so that’s why the co-working is good,” she said. “But sometimes, socializing isn’t enough. You need that education. You need to learn from folks who have been there before. You need that basic toolkit.”

Outside the glass-walled room at the end of the office, the rest of Betamore’s 8,000 square feet has room for several dozen part-time members (Brenner said he doesn’t think there will be a cap on the number). Officially, Brenner and his partners have not yet approved any members. They’ve made soft commitments to several people, he said, and will spend the rest of this week reviewing applications.

About eight parties — some individuals, some groups — have already expressed interest in reserving a full-time desk, he said.

The class list isn’t set yet, but Brenner said Betamore will announce it once members weigh in about what would be most helpful. The founders said they’ll bring in professionals to teach, but added that they’re encouraging members to lead classes themselves. As an incentive, Brenner said, teachers will share the revenue from their course’s enrollment fee.

Classes aren’t included in the membership fee, however, and Betamore’s normal membership rates are still steeper than the rates of other co-working spaces in Baltimore. Full-time members receive a designated desk and 24-hour access, seven days a week, priced at $400 for one person per month. For access to the community spaces during normal hours, part-time memberships are $200 per month per employee.

At the Beehive, which is located in Canton’s Emerging Technology Center, the comparable package for full-time membership costs $250 per month and buys 24/7 building access and a dedicated desk.

At 716 Broadway in Fells Point, which offers more individualized spaces in addition to a collaborative environment, a $195 monthly rate buys access for one part-time member three days a week, while full-time membership with a dedicated desk and 24/7 access costs $295 per month.

Several entrepreneurs, however, said they weren’t fazed by the price at Betamore.

“For me anyway, if that’s what it costs to work at Betamore, then that’s what it is,” said Chris Coy, who co-founded Platfolio, which helps users convert data they’ve stored on the Cloud into personal websites.

Cangialosi said he and Brenner know Betamore’s cost can seem high, but added that it isn’t meant to house all the employees of a company.

Lenzer Kirk said that although Betamore has elements of an incubator, like the dedicated work space, it’s more about building the entrepreneur rather than churning out successful companies.

“It’s really the entrepreneurs that they want to be successful,” Lenzer Kirk said. “And it’s about really fostering that community feel.”

The concept of co-working has taken off in Baltimore and elsewhere, said Deborah Tillet, executive director of the Emerging Technology Center.

“Good ideas tend to come from a collective,” Tillet said. “It’s nice to be around like-minded people and do things in an environment where other people are doing similar things. Good ideas breed on other good ideas.”

And several people milling around Betamore on Monday said the demand for such spaces has exploded.

“There are a tremendous amount of individuals who have created their own sandboxes out back with their own dreams and visions,” said Platfolio’s Coy. “This is a giant sandbox for everyone to come and play.”