Michael Binko is the founder and CEO of Startup Maryland, as well as the president and CEO of Kloudtrack. Operating in Annapolis, MD, Kloudtrack offers cloud-based and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) technologies that organize and protect companies’ information related to compliance, governance, risk management, and other kind of sensitive data.
In this video conversation we focus on the great work that Mike and his team at Startup MD is doing across the state. Bringing the “startup incubator” on the road!
Startup Maryland was launched out of Startup America, the White House’s initiative to celebrate and inspire entrepreneurs across the U.S. The program is currently running Pitch Across Maryland, a multi-week tour and competition that showcases the state’s innovative startups and entrepreneurs, and culminates in a finals ceremony on October 2 at the state capital in Annapolis MD. Click here to view the last week of the Startup MD schedule.
Mike Binko spoke with citybizlist founder Edwin Warfield for this interview.
EDWIN WARFIELD: Tell us about launching Startup Maryland.
MIKE BINKO: Startup Maryland was a group that was forged by a couple of serial entrepreneurs that had become active angel investors. We were looking at the community of ecosystem-building around early-stage innovation and entrepreneurship, and started to realize that there was no organization that really went deep and wide in owning the relationship with entrepreneurs as peers and would be willing to get involved with them on a mentor–protégé or a very active advisory perspective. So, that’s how it all started. It was eight of us initially that got together, and we took a long time to really determine what the charter should be for Startup Maryland. We could have sat in a room and said, “Here are the things we think entrepreneurs need in this region,” but we decided to do something different. We said, “Let’s go out and meet the entrepreneurs.” So, we did townhalls around the state where we’ve invited entrepreneurs to come in, and it was kind of like a Dr. Phil session, where we would facilitate—“what’s working, what’s not, what are you frustrated with, what resources have been helpful for you, what do you need next”—and we would throw them up all up on the board. Everywhere we went, four things bubbled up to the top: celebration, coaching, connections, and capital. We had a fifth one that’s kind of unspoken, but if we feel we do those four well, community takes care of itself.
Q. How does the Pitch Across Maryland tour work?
A. The Pitch Across Maryland Tour does really a couple of things. It celebrates the entrepreneurs, celebrates their story, and gives them a chance to tell it in their own words in a video format. Then, we take those videos and we put them into a competition. So, Pitch Across Maryland is really a competition where these videos are reviewed by angel investors, venture capital firms, and other serial entrepreneurs. They look at the videos through the lens of “who are the undiscovered, or kind of undiscovered Maryland companies that have the best potential for high growth?” We don’t dictate exactly what those metrics are, so we get a little bit of everything.
After the tour’s done, we take a month and those folks review all the videos. We’re promoting them in the meantime, and the long tail of the dog kicks in where all the ecosystem supporters are hanging out of their network saying, “Hey, our 10 startups are in the Pitch Across Maryland, so go watch the videos.” And then our panel of judges select eight finalist companies that they believe have the potential for high growth, and they’re considered our eight finalists.
Q. How many companies typically participate?
A. We get about 125 to 160 every year. Then those eight finalists get a chance to present with TEDCO, who’s one of our sponsor partners for the full tour. They do an entrepreneur expo in November every year, and we have a session at the expo where our eight finalists get a chance to present not a video pitch, but the full dog and pony in front of the entire room—a room full of peer entrepreneurs, ecosystem supporters, and investors. Then, we have a second panel that chooses a winner and a runner-up. CoFoundersLab was declared the winner the first year of the Pitch Across Maryland, and that’s kind of how we got really tight with Shahab [Kaviani] and Culin [Tate].