By Megan Sayles,
AFRO Business Writer,

UpSurge Baltimore, a start-up ecosystem builder and investment engine, named Kory Bailey as its CEO on Nov. 7. Bailey formerly served as the organization’s chief ecosystem and relationship officer. 

He replaces Jamie McDonald and is UpSurge’s first Black CEO. 

“It’s always a challenge to succeed the founder of any organization, but even Jamie herself says that there are some people who are uniquely built to start the flames and some folks who are good at stoking them,” said Bailey. “I think I’ll have an opportunity to take a lot of the learnings and relationships that we’ve built over the last two years and use them as a catalyst for mobilizing around the day-to-day work that’s required to build a strong and resilient tech ecosystem. I take that challenge on knowing I’ve got big shoes to fill and that I want to create a legacy of my own in moving this organization forward.” 

Upsurge was established in 2021 to create an equitable tech environment where Baltimore start-up founders have access to the capital, coaching and networks required to launch and grow. Its goal is to turn Baltimore into the first equitech city, which would leverage equity and diversity in the economic development of emerging technology sectors. 

In Bailey’s previous role, he worked to engage corporate, philanthropic and institutional partners and stakeholders to devise solutions that will better support Baltimore founders. Bailey was the brainchild behind Equitech Tuesday, a weekly meet-up for the city’s tech community. 

This effort led to the launch of the Baltimore Tech Connect portal, which was created by EcoMap Technologies and local organizations Fearless and UpRise. The portal supplies early-stage founders with mentorship, access to advisors and resources from investors and entrepreneurial support organizations. 

“Kory has a unique ability to take his lived experience, which includes invaluable time spent learning and understanding big tech and the start-up landscape, and translate that into greater connectivity and alignment within our tech community,” said Mike Hankin, chairman of UpSurge’s board. “That is evident, not just across industry sectors, but across lines of historical and cultural difference as well.”

Bailey grew up in Durham, N.C.. and attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on a football scholarship. While he studied communications and African-American studies, he dreamed of playing professionally. 

After graduation, he played as a wide receiver for the New York Jets in 2002 and then for the Edmonton Elks in 2003. But, Bailey left sports and turned to entrepreneurship. 

He started a bar group with friends and then began managing a fitness club. His first experience in tech was in Indianapolis in 2014 at Blackbaud, a computer software company for fundraising and donor management. Since then, Bailey has stayed in the start-up space. 

“It really was the equitech vision that drew me to UpSurge. In that experience working for the start-up in Indianapolis I was employee number 15. I was the first Black employee,” said Bailey. “As we scaled over the next two years to 75 people, I remained the lone Black employee there for those two years.” 

Most recently, UpSurge was a part of Greater Baltimore Committee’s (GBC) consortium that applied for and received a federal tech hub designation for Baltimore from the Biden-Harris administration. 

In his new role, Bailey and the UpSurge team will collaborate on the phase two submission, in which the consortium will compete for funding for artificial intelligence and biotechnology projects. 

He is also working to bring more tech accelerators and conferences to Baltimore and to expand UpSurge’s partnerships with entrepreneur support organizations. 

“Any emerging market is an opportunity for economic growth. If we want to increase the GDP of our state and the country, we have a market that is underserved and underinvested in, and it’s companies that are led by women, people of color and by anyone who sees building a diverse leadership team as strategy for how they grow their companies,” said Bailey. 

“I see it as not just the biggest economic opportunity that we have in our state and country, but the way in which we create a culture where everyone reaps the benefits and is able to benefit from emerging technologies.” 

Megan Sayles is a Report For America corps member.