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Win Smith, Co-Founder of Alchemy Learning, and presenter for the company. pitches at the 2015 Beta City event at City Garage in Port Covington. (The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz)

Beta City pitch session shows off new City Garage space

Seven local startups kicked off the inaugural Beta City event — a celebration of Baltimore-area entrepreneurship and innovation — by pitching their ideas to a panel of potential investors Thursday afternoon.

“Events like this are really an amazing opportunity for a company that’s not in a New York, Boston, or San Francisco hub,” said Win Smith, co-founder of Alchemy Learning, which is developing a low-cost, smartphone-based virtual reality tool that can help employees stick to their company-sponsored wellness plans.

Beta City was a joint venture between Betamore, the Federal Hill-based incubator and education center, Plank Industries and Technical.ly Baltimore. It was one of several events that comprised Technical.ly’s  2015 Baltimore Innovation Week and was a stop on Startup Maryland’s Pitch Across Maryland bus tour.

“To tell our story in an environment like this is very unusual outside of those markets,” Smith said. “It’s really going to foster more people like us in the city.”

Although the pitch session didn’t offer an investment prize — unlike Steve Case’s “Rise of the Rest Tour,” which came to Baltimore earlier this week and awarded $100,000 to local medical device company Sisu Global Health — it was a chance to make connections with the people who write checks.

“We want to meet some investors,” Smith said, explaining that Alchemy would soon open another round of fundraising to support an efficacy study.

Judges, including Plank Industries Partner Demian Costa and members of local and national venture capital firms, selected Yet Analytics, which offers a data analysis platform to help large organizations track their performance, as the winner. The Baltimore Angels investment group also recognized Citelighter,  which has developed a platform that helps students develop research and writing skills and helps teachers assess their progress.

The pitch session was the first of several Beta City events scheduled to last into the evening, including a VIP demo session with 25 companies; an hour set aside just for networking; and a party with music.

The evening’s events were expected to draw as many as 1,000 people, said Betamore CEO Jennifer Meyer.

But Thursday’s events were also a showcase for Plank Industries’ new City Garage innovation center in Port Covington. The former city bus depot will be a “maker space” and home for emerging light manufacturers.

The stark decor makes the intention of the project clear: the lyrics to “The Star-Spangled Banner” are painted along the interior walls, and at the back of the center “Main Street” room the words “Made in America” are written with large, raised block letters.

The space was decorated for a party, but Costa said that when operating as intended, there would be several tenant companies, all of whom will be making something. “There’s no office space in here,” he said. “[You] can see them producing some sort of product.”

The City Garage space will also be home to The Foundery, which will offer community access to industrial-grade tools, and the Under Armour Lighthouse, a research facility investigating ways to bring apparel and footwear manufacturing to Baltimore.

Startup Maryland founder Mike Binko said the space would be a great resource to some of the emerging companies he’s encountered through the Pitch Across Maryland tour and his organization’s entrepreneurship boot camp.

“It’s outstanding,” Binko said. “Many of our companies … are going to be looking for a place to kind of lay down some roots. So it’s great to have this in south Baltimore.”

The other companies that took part in the pitch session were:

  • Artichoke, which makes a mobile app to aid client management and billing for freelancers.
  • Protenus, developers of a system to make electronic medical records more secure.
  • Sickweather, an app that scans social media to gauge the risk of illness in a given area.
  • Sonavex, which has developed a simplified ultrasound device to detect blood clots.