John Cammack is an entrepreneur, angel investor, and the managing partner of Cammack Associates, LLC. John specializes in the education and mental fitness industries, providing venture capital and strategic planning for companies in the startup phase. Prior to starting his own firm, John was a senior executive at the T. Rowe Price Group. Citybizlist previously interviewed John about his involvement in the Baltimore Angels and Betamore.
Q. What sparked your decision to set out on your own?
A. I left T. Rowe Price five and a half years ago. I knew that I wanted to do something to give back—I was at the age and in a position where that was important to me. I knew I wanted to do something in public education. I believe having a healthy, vital public education system that creates opportunity for everybody is very important, not only in Baltimore, but to the nation. But I did not know how I was going to go about it. I started thinking maybe I would get into public policy, but then I ran into Susan Magsamen who had started a company out of Johns Hopkins called Curiosityville. I went, ‘Wow, maybe I can do this by participating in a great idea that is getting self-actualized in a startup.’
I became involved with helping the company financially and then really as a very active advisor. That was my first introduction into what it was like to be hands-on with an early stage company that was in education. And when I understood the power of Curiosityville to improve the mindset and ability of a young child to become a successful learner, I thought, ‘What if 10 million people could have that opportunity?’ That began to inform me on the leverage effect of a good startup to have social impact. So, I began to look for more companies and I looked nationally, but to my surprise I found I did not have to look beyond the zip codes in Baltimore.
Q. How do you choose who you work with? What defines a good startup?
A. Good startups solve a tangible problem for their market place. I became an angel out of caring about improving education, and I found the mechanism that worked for me was finding an entrepreneur that can solve a problem and scale the solution.
Q. How does what you do fit into the Baltimore educational technology industry?
A. I realized there are a lot of champions like me in Baltimore that will support an early stage education company. I went, ‘Well, I wonder if I could actually recruit a company to come here. Can we make Baltimore a destination for ed tech companies?’ I had invested in a company called the Cite Lighter, which was in New York City, and over the course of a year of discussions, bringing them down to meet people in Baltimore, they concluded the odds of success for them as a company would be higher if they were in the Baltimore ecosystem than if they remained in New York. I think that has worked out better than anybody imagined because of the quality of people they can hire, the quality of advice that you can get, the ease of raising capital, and the desire of districts to work with their product to make them successful because the districts think that their product will make students and teachers more successful, and that is really what drew me into this.
Q. What makes Baltimore unique in terms of this ecosystem?
A. The ed tech ecosystem is rather unique for Baltimore because we have all the ingredients to create a great dynamic system of value creation in our community. You have existing companies like Laureate Learning, Sylvan Learning, Calvert Education, Learn It Systems… You have all these motivated Teach for America alums, that want to change education and many will do it in classrooms but some will do it as a founder of a company or working for other companies. You have a group of seasoned investors that understand the business of education and how to invest successfully, and more importantly advise companies they invest in: CanAm Partners, ABS Capital, Sterling Partners. Then you have a group of wealthy individuals who simply care about improving public education. They will do it as funders and not-for-profit initiatives, but also startups that have great ideas. So everything is in place here and remarkably there are probably ten education startups that have been launched in the last three years. All of them are still moving forward; but of the thirty-one investments I’ve made, nineteen were either companies that were founded in Baltimore or have relocated here. So, I have become a pretty good champion for early stage investment in our region and I have never looked back since leaving T. Rowe Price and beginning to do this.