Frederick, Maryland: The growing city with the perfect combination of historic charm, hip restaurants and shops, excellent public schools, and a burgeoning art scene, surrounded by picturesque farmland. It’s got just enough “city” for many while offering easy and quick access to outdoor activities such as hiking, cycling, and kayaking. It’s also located close enough to two large cities, Baltimore and Washington DC, with lots of jobs, but many find trying to merge small town community with big city opportunities to be less than ideal.
Paul Wilson, who describes himself as a “technologist, thinker, problem solver, and former alpaca farmer”, is one of those people. “I’ve lived in the Frederick area for about 21 years but most of my work has been outside that area. I naively thought commuting down 270 where there were more opportunities wouldn’t be so bad. I ended up working in Columbia for a number of years and tolerated the commute but wasn’t happy about it.”
Why not? There’s growing thinking that Frederick should (and can) stand on its own as a hub for incubating innovative new companies. According to Richard Griffin, Director or Frederick Department of Economic Development, more than 97 percent of Frederick's businesses are small, entrepreneurial shops and Frederick’s Innovative Technology Center, Inc. (FITCI) has helped incubate over 200 companies, largely operating in or around the biotechnology industry.
Information Technology companies have also taken root in Frederick. Yakabod, a software product and services company launched in 2001, provides secure knowledge sharing solutions. Swift Systems specializes in expert managed IT support services for Frederick, MD businesses. Axis 80 Interactive, a full-service web development agency serving corporate clients in a variety of industries was originally launched in Hagerstown but moved to Frederick. Clickseed, launched in 2013, provides Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and advanced digital marketing services.
The list of companies goes on and yet, many don’t yet see Frederick as a prime spot for launching a startup. Back to Paul: “I’ve always had an interest in startup companies (since long before having a “real” job.) The past several years I’d been mulling over ideas for a startup and had done some consulting with some startups. Most of the people I was interacting with were telling me that if I wanted to start something I should either move to Silicon Valley (or one of several other “growth” areas) or if I wanted to still be in the area I should move in to DC to be “close to the action”. Moving could certainly open up some different options but it’s not what I wanted to do.
“The Frederick area has grown quite a bit since I moved here and there are better opportunities, but we still have a pattern of people living here, because it’s a great place to live, yet commuting elsewhere to work. I’d like to see this change with more good opportunities locally so people can work close to where they live. One way to do this is to attract large companies to move to the area - the big bang approach, but another way is to grow companies locally.”
Enter the Frederick Startup Community Group, founded to bring people together to raise awareness of others interested in startups and encourage collaboration, to organize and coordinate resources and information for startups making it easier to get started, and hopefully create more opportunities over time.
The Frederick Startup Community’s primary focus is on technology related startups but others are welcome as well. Paul Wilson, founder of the Frederick Startup Community, encourages anyone involved or interested in startups to attend the community meetings. “ ‘Startup’ has taken on a particular connotation related to technology startups or technology backed startups,” Wilson said. “There’s been much press re-enforcing that idea, but there are certainly aspects of starting a business that apply across all domains.”
Wilson emphasizes these meetings are interactive and organic, and not just a one-way presentation. Anyone who might be able to help start something by guidance or offering services is welcome to attend as well. He also stresses the word “community,” and hopes this group will be of value to anyone interested in startup businesses. “I encourage everyone to help contribute to the community and guide the direction of the discussion and activities to add value for everyone interested in any type of startup.”
Wilson is hopeful that his group will encourage interaction and engagement that will lead to a growing startup community within Frederick and provide value for everyone involved. He also hopes others will learn from the experience: “A lesson to help avoid some pain someone else has lived through, a tidbit to help get closer to your goals, a resource for helping get past a hurdle, or maybe a spark of an idea that will lead to a new startup.”
So what should one expect from a Frederick Startup Community meeting? “The Meetups to date have had a mix of talks about personal experiences with success and failure related to startups as well as talks about resources available to help startups,” Wilson said. The meetings also include lively discussions, scheduled speakers and open networking.
Cowork Frederick was also launched with the goal of supporting the growing community of entre/solopreneurs in Frederick. In addition to providing a working environment that invites collaboration, Cowork Frederick has educational and networking events targeted at small businesses. The latest among these is Start-up / Stay-up Day.
Cowork Frederick will launch their first Start-up / Stay-up Day event on March 19, 2014. The monthly series offers education, consultation and networking opportunities and is aimed at providing support to new and existing business owners.
The March 19 Start-up / Stay-up Day begins with an educational talk. Participants can then get advice from one or more experts in 30-minute, private consultation sessions on a first-come, first-serve basis:
3-4 pm: How to Read Contracts: A Business Owner’s Guide to Legalese
4-6 pm: Private consultations with one or more of the following expert advisors:
Tickets to the Start-Up / Stay-Up events are $49, with discounts available to Cowork Frederick members. To register for this event, go here.
Future Start-up / Stay-up Days will have a similar format and will be scheduled to coincide with the Frederick Startup Community’s “Startup Talks” that take place at Cowork Frederick from 7-9 pm. A networking happy hour from 6 to 7 pm, also free of charge, connects the two events.