When James L. Brinkley II first started his company IPGen in 2019, he was optimistic about raising funds for his patent-focused startup, anticipating investments within three or four months. Brinkley had impressive credentials: a law degree, a master of laws degree and legal experience working on technology issues at IBM. Still, he found it difficult to raise capital for his startup, facing challenges ranging from a limited network to not knowing which funds to apply for.
A turning point came when Brinkley discovered the Maryland Technology Development Corporation (TEDCO), which fosters an inclusive entrepreneurial innovation ecosystem by investing in Maryland tech companies and helping them grow. TEDCO provided Brinkley with both useful guidance and an important round of pre-seed funding through its Builder Fund.
Today IPGen has several employees and has expanded from its early vision of a software service for patent claims to a company that streamlines and automates all aspects of the patent process, saving its clients time, money and associated risks—in essence, the Turbo Tax of IP (intellectual property).
“TEDCO was the single most responsible factor in IPGen’s growth, from the people to the resources to the funding,” said Brinkley. “We would not be where we are today without TEDCO.”
The Challenges Facing Many Tech Startups
The challenges facing Brinkley may sound familiar to entrepreneurs with strong credentials and concepts but a limited network. TEDCO is working to change that in Maryland.
“Lack of access to capital is a major issue for socially and economically disadvantaged entrepreneurs seeking to grow their companies. Not everyone has well-connected friends and family ready to fund their projects,” said Jean-Luc Park, the senior director of Social Impact Funds at TEDCO.
Park cites luck and proximity to funding as factors that often influence who gets funding, noting there are many tech entrepreneurs with high quality projects and the skills to succeed; what they lack is investor connections. This lack of investment opportunity comes with real costs: not only are entrepreneurs unable to realize their full potential, but Maryland loses out on good-paying jobs, exciting innovations, an expanded tax base and the chance to narrow the wealth gap.
That’s why TEDCO’s Social Impact Funds are so important, offering a first line of resources to talented and experienced tech startup founders who are traditionally under-represented in their fields.
Centering Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in TEDCO’s Social Impact Funds
TEDCO embraces diversity, equity and inclusion in Maryland’s startup communities. The Social Impact Funds are purposefully designed to engage and invest in economically disadvantaged founders and communities. One of these funds is the Builder Fund, which invests with the goal of helping startups reach meaningful milestones and become healthy companies, going on to either attract larger institutional investors or become independent of the venture investor path.
The Builder Fund typically invests in amounts up to $200,000 via convertible notes or other financial instruments. Funded companies are also provided resources like hands-on executive support, peer-to-peer mentorship/collaboration, and networking opportunities.
Eligibility Requirements for the Builder Fund
TEDCO encourages pre-seed technology startups from all industries to apply. Companies should be tech-centered, not simply a business that uses technology for operational purposes.
The Pre-Seed Builder Fund has minimum ownership requirements: a company’s principal place of business must be in Maryland; it must have at least one full-time employee; and no less than 50% of founders must demonstrate economic disadvantage.
Applicants may apply online at tedcomd.com/builderfund where applications are assessed on a rolling basis.
Other TEDCO Resources
If an entrepreneur does not qualify for the Builder Fund, they should be aware that Maryland has a strong entrepreneurial ecosystem. There may be other resources available for startups to grow their business; more information can be found using TEDCO’s online assessment.
Brinkley, the founder of IP Gen, didn’t receive funding the first time he applied for the Builder Fund, but he did receive useful direction and advice. On his next attempt, he worked with a mentor on his application and was successful. Brinkley’s advice to other entrepreneurs: research the funds to make sure you qualify, seek advice, and ask questions during the application process if you can’t find the answer.
“The good funds take the extra time to give feedback, and yes—TEDCO is one of the good ones!” said Brinkley, adding that he meets almost weekly with a TEDCO advisor.
The result? The expanded IPGen platform—which grew to include an end-to-end IP lifecycle management platform, with social network and collaboration features using state-of-the-art technologies–launched this fall.
To learn more about launching your tech business with TEDCO, visit TEDCOmd.com.
Content from Tammi Thomas, Chief Marketing & Communications Officer, TEDCO