Karl and Vicki Gumtow: Giving back is everybody’s business

Vicki and Karl Gumtow (Cyberpoint International LLC photo)

Karl and Vicki  Gumtow (Cyberpoint International LLC photo)

When CyberPoint first opened its doors back in 2009, of course we wanted to be successful. We wanted our measures of success to not only include business and financial success, but to also include giving back. Thanks to the help and support of others along the way, we were able to succeed in our lives and business. Grateful for that support, we wanted our new company to allow us to do the same for others: we wanted to give opportunities to others like we were given. Of course, we would be taking small steps at first and doing a lot of learning as we went along.

One of our first partnerships was with the Cristo Rey Jesuit High School’s corporate internship program. Cristo Rey is a wonderful school in Fells Point committed to helping youth from low-income families get the education and preparation they need to get into college and succeed once they are there. They do this through a rigorous curriculum and real world, on-the-job experience through internships. Creating an internship was a challenge, however. We knew that the students would not be prepared to contribute directly to the highly technical work we do, and we did not think that purely clerical assignments would provide an enriching experience.

Working with our employees (and our two daughters, whose ages are similar to those of the Cristo Rey students), we devised a program in which students learned about the foundations of our industry through a very hands-on approach. The first project the students engaged in was to build a computer from the ground up. Each student was given all the parts needed, and it was the student’s responsibility to work with our employees to learn about all the parts that make up a computer such as processors, power supplies, and networking cables. The project was complete when the computer was built, the operating system installed, and the student sent an email to the supervisor to say that the project was done.

As you can imagine, it was a highly impactful learning experience for the students. They not only completed a technical assignment that few ever complete at their age, but they did it while collaborating with professional staff from all levels of our company. While the students were not directly contributing to the work we do for our customers, they provided invaluable benefits to our business. The most important of which was the opportunity for us to build relationships with the young people in our community — to learn about their lives, their hopes, and their dreams. We were filled with pride when one of our students wrote his college essay on “Why Tuesday is my favorite day,” because this was the day he worked with us at CyberPoint.

The long game

For a business like ours that has made a long-term commitment to being in Baltimore, we benefited immeasurably from these student interns. The lessons we learned started us down a path of even deeper engagement with our community. Our experience also made it clear to us that we had to play the long game. We needed to help create opportunities for education and inspiration that had the potential to grow the future workforce we need here in Baltimore. We also needed to find ways to give back that would help create the kind of vibrant community where our employees and their families want to live, a place where business can thrive and where our city’s youth have a role in shaping the future.

Last month, we celebrated our 6th anniversary, and as our company grows we continually strive to make giving back to the community a core value. We work hard to improve our Cristo Rey partnership so that it provides real learning opportunities and mentorship for city youth. We support innovative STEM education programs, help to empower women to succeed in the cyber security field, and support the local arts community, not to mention individual artists. We’re proud of the work we do, yet at the same time, we have learned that we will need to do more if we are to realize our goal of having a civic impact. Particularly at a time of profound difficulties in our city, the engagement and support of companies like ours is all the more important.

The realization that we need to do more was impetus for our recent commitment of  $1 million to the Baltimore Community Foundation (BCF) and the creation of a new endowed charitable fund. While we felt that our smaller steps were making a difference, we wanted to create greater opportunities to give back and make a gift that would impact our community in perpetuity. We also hope that others in Baltimore’s burgeoning technology sector would be inspired to do the same. The new CyberPoint Foundation Fund is primarily focused on supporting educational initiatives, with additional support to the arts, economic development, and other causes important to CyberPoint employees.

Establishing the BCF fund offered a number of advantages for a young company like ours. We are able to benefit from the BCF’s collective endowments in order to grow the value of our fund over time. We are able to utilize the BCF organization and infrastructure to take donations and make grants. Establishing the fund will also create new opportunities for employees to play a role in our giving programs. Of course, we also wanted to work with an organization that would help us get to know the Baltimore community better, and which demonstrated an enduring commitment to our city through good times and bad.

We hope that by sharing some of our story that other companies in our sector might join us in making a commitment of their own. We know that many businesses like ours are community-minded and are generous with their time and money, but we also know that there is more that we can do — especially at this critical time in our city’s history. For businesses that are just starting out, we also hope to encourage them to think about their philanthropic aims at the outset. Beyond the satisfaction of fulfilling important corporate responsibilities to the community, giving back also helps to create the kind of places where all have the opportunity to succeed and where businesses flourish.

Karl & Vicki Gumtow are co-founders of CyberPoint International in Baltimore.