COLLEGE PARK — Maryland startups found a venue for networking, learning and commiserating Tuesday at the Maryland Technology Development Corporation’s annual Entrepreneur Expo.
Founders celebrated successful exits in keynote addresses. CEOs and lawyers offered tips and war stories in breakout sessions for audiences of entrepreneurs envisioning their own success.
“You have a state full of advisers and incubators and funders and advocates who have your back,” Myra Norton, chair of TEDCO’s board of directors, told entrepreneurs. “We are in this together.”
The scheduled program included program tracks designed to help Maryland startups with two of the most pressing needs in the state for these entrepreneurs: funding and leadership.
Funding is the persistent problem for startups. They need it, and in places outside of Silicon Valley, New York and Boston it can be difficult to find.
But that part of the equation may be changing for Maryland.
Bob Ackerman, founder and managing director of cybersecurity-focused venture capital firm AllegisCyber Capital, started the cybersecurity startup foundry DataTribe in Columbia. He said he soon realized it was more cost efficient to recruit cyber experts from the National Security Agency to stay in Maryland instead of encouraging them to start or join companies in Silicon Valley, where costs have been drastically rising.
Money, he told the expo in a morning address, is not the issue.
“When we put that Silicon Valley in a box and moved it to Maryland in DataTribe, the idea was it’s not just about writing checks,” he said. “If you have the talent you will find the money. But it’s about creating an ecosystem and bringing it together so that the talent can establish itself and demonstrate its capabilities and the capital will follow.”
Much of the activity at the Entrepreneur Expo was about building that ecosystem. Breakout session topics included finding small business resources, evaluating different financing options, finding a successful exit and generating sales.
But most of the activity may not have happened on the schedule. It was on the sidelines and in the exhibit hall where eager entrepreneurs met with the people who could provide them the lifeblood of any startup: money.
In alcoves and on couches around the meeting rooms, startup teams huddled and strategized. They met with fund directors counseling potential applicants and fellow entrepreneurs who had done it before and were willing to serve as mentors.
Inside the expo’s exhibit hall resided the usual array of vendors looking for clients. Law firms, accountants and other services firms were all ready to hand over business cards to potential clients.
But the hall also held county economic development teams ready to convince entrepreneurs to base their business in their county. Accelerators and incubators also set up booths.
“There’s so many small businesses coming through,” said Jerry Bory, chapter director of Startup Grind’s Frederick chapter. “We’re not here to sell; we’re here to help educate.”
The organization helps connect startups at events so they can talk to each other about their work in startups and what they deal with as entrepreneurs.
Startups participating in TEDCO’s Maryland Innovation Initiative, a program designed to help commercialize university research, also had booths to showcase their companies and hopefully get some networking opportunities.