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Baltimore: The East Coast's Rising Startup Hub

Despite negative perceptions, the city is a growing innovation hub

5Jan

For someone who lives outside of Baltimore, the gang violence depicted in HBO's TV series 'The Wire' might seem fabricated. It is, however, currently the seventh most dangerous city in the U.S, with 1,417 violent crimes per 100,000 residents. Crime levels don’t seem to be reducing either. In 2015 there were 344 homicides, beating the previous record of 353 set in 1993.

While crime has clearly taken its toll on the city, the Baltimore Sun has called its burgeoning startup scene 'another chapter being written in the city's dynamic history'. In the 1950s and 60s, Baltimore's economy was thriving. The Bethlehem Steel at Sparrow's point employed 35,000 people, but, as with many other cities reliant on manufacturing, it lost its way, and with that came poverty and increased crime.

The city's economy could be on course for another purple patch. Baltimore’s geographical location - it's close to Boston, New York City and Washington DC - allows it to play a role in their startup hubs, without suffering the inflated operational and salary costs which come with operating in, say, New York. This is not the only advantage. As Inc. state: 'This also means that regional angel investors and venture capitalists from nearby states--particularly New York--can evaluate Baltimore companies as ‘local startups,’ which far increases their likelihood of investment and mentorship.'

The city has proven an entrepreneurial hub for health, defense, research, education and technology. According to the Baltimore Sun, the city's tech talent grew by 42% between 2010 and 2013, backed by a number of prestigious universities - including John Hopkins - the city's workforce is brimming with talent. Inc. state that many startups take advantage of these schools, with investors encouraging local recruitment campaigns due to 'cost and cultural benefits'.

In 2015, 75% of venture capital went to three states; California, New York and Massachusetts, leaving the other 47 to fight it out for the remaining 25%. Steve Case, who runs the 'Rise of the Rest' tour, has invested $2 million dollars in entrepreneurs living in other parts on the country, and says:'In Baltimore there is real potential.' He also calls on the city's 'growing base of funding' and cheaper living costs when compared to other East Coast cities as main advantages.

Established companies, like McCormick and Under Armour, are quickly being joined by companies like R2Integrated and OrderUp, which despite being successful, have yet to scale up. This means that innovation incubators, of which there are many in Baltimore, still play an important role in the hub's future.

There is still a long way to go before Baltimore's startup hub can be uttered in the same breath as New York and Boston, but it seems that the city is quickly developing a strong entrepreneurial foundation on which to launch future companies. 

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