By Megan Sayles,
AFRO Business Writer,
Report for America Corps Member
UpSurge Baltimore is on a mission to make Baltimore a top-tier tech city, one where everyone belongs and where everyone is afforded the opportunity to participate.
Launched in 2021, UpSurge Baltimore is more than just an organization, it’s a city-wide movement united under the vision of Equitech.
“Right now in the country, our most high-growth tech hubs are also our most wealth-divided cities and, in many cases, our most gentrified cities,” said Jamie McDonald, CEO of UpSurge Baltimore. “As we imagined how we center an important body of work around entrepreneurship and jobs, what we said to ourselves is, ‘We have an opportunity to do this differently.’”
Equitech considers equity and diversity as a core strength in the economic development of emerging tech sectors and expands on the benefits of diverse teams and underestimated leaders. It is a lens used to attract, align and support startups.
Baltimore’s abundance of intellectual capital, shared desire for a better future and geographic location make the city well-positioned to become the first Equitech city in the country. The hope is that Baltimore will serve as a launching pad for the major tech companies of the future.
Thus far, UpSurge Baltimore has connected with faith leaders, community leaders, politicians, corporate professionals, nonprofit organizations and startup founders to socialize its Equitech vision. The organization also works with founders to determine how technology can be created and used to increase equity in communities.
Kory Bailey, relationship development director at UpSurge Baltimore, has led the charge in discovering what startup founders require from the ecosystem, whether that be resources, assets, capital or access to different professional networks.
UpSurge Baltimore also works as an investment engine.
“One of the things that we know is despite the huge growth in venture capital in the country over the last couple of years, the percentage going to Black and women founders has actually stayed flat or, in the case of women, gone down,” said McDonald. “Now, both are at record levels, but as a percentage of the total, they’re still lower.”
UpSurge Baltimore teamed up with Techstars, a seed accelerator, to launch the Techstars Equitech Accelerator, a three-month program that provides underestimated founders with mentorship opportunities, funding, curated workshops and access to Techstars global network for life.
As a part of this collaboration, UpSurge Baltimore has made investments in each of the companies chosen for the accelerator. The organizations plan for the program to run annually.
Several months ago, UpSurge Baltimore released its Equitech 2030 report, which lays out 152 recommendations from over 200 community leaders across the city. Each recommendation is individualized by timeline, whether it be a quick win, systems change or moonshot, and by the partners it will require.
The report’s prevailing themes included more financial incentives for founders, easily accessible databases of local companies and resources and the fostering of robust connections between startups and corporations.
In February, Capital One awarded UpSurge Baltimore a $250,000 grant to help advance the organization’s work of building an Equitech economy in Baltimore. The grant was a part of Capital One’s Impact Initiative, a five-year commitment to support growth in underserved communities and advance socioeconomic mobility by closing gaps in equity and opportunity.
This award made Capital One the first non-Baltimore-based company to invest in UpSurge Baltimore’s vision. The firm also intends to lend its technology, finance, marketing and corporate sponsorship expertise to the organization.
According to Bailey, when women and people of color achieve prosperity, they then tend to give back to their communities by investing in programs, services and companies that support them.
He hopes that UpSurge Baltimore can amplify those success stories that contribute to a more equitable landscape in the city.
“Historically, have been innovative, entrepreneurial. We’ve made wonderful things culturally for this country with little,” said Kory Bailey, relationship development director at UpSurge Baltimore. “If given the resources and given the opportunity and access to networks, how much greater can Baltimore be? I guess we’ll just have to find out.”
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