Building Baltimore’s ecosystem of innovators, inventors, investors, and entrepreneurs
Christy Wyskiel is the senior advisor to Johns Hopkins University President Ronald J. Daniels. She runs the Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures group. During her tenure at Johns Hopkins, Christy has focused her efforts on the school’s innovation, commercialization, and technology transfer initiatives, as well as its relationships with Baltimore’s communities of entrepreneurs and inventors. A seasoned entrepreneur, venture capitalist, and corporate development consultant, she has led organizations such as GrayBug, Cureveda, BioMarker, Maverick Capital, and CWW Research, her own consulting firm. In addition to her job at Johns Hopkins, she currently serves on the boards of the Abell Foundation, the Baltimore Development Corporation, Teach for America, and Mouth Party Caramel.
EDWIN WARFIELD: Do you consider startup accelerators like Betamore and the ETC your competitors or collaborators?
CHRISTY WYSKIEL: I think the absolute worst thing that could happen for Baltimore is if that all of the spaces catering to entrepreneurs were in competition with each other. In fact, I feel so strongly about this that I consider myself, on a daily basis, to be a silo breaker. I really pride myself on making sure that I’m connecting these dots and seeing where the best fit is for a given company.
For example, if a company comes out of our social innovation lab—another program we have to promote mission-driven for-profits and not-for-profits—if a company from that program wants to move forward, Impact Hub would be a perfect place for them to go. There are a number of programs that Michelle and Pres who run Impact Hub could really help cater to their needs and really help promote that.
Where do the other hubs fit in?
If there’s a company in Baltimore that needs lab space, right now, we’re the only innovation hub where you can rent by the bench in Baltimore and have flexible, affordable lab space. We welcome anyone who needs lab space to apply to come to be part of that for Baltimore.
I think Betamore does a particularly spectacular job connecting all of the dots in the tech world. They not only have space, but they have programming and a really great advisory board with mentorship. I think if you’re a very strong tech company, Betamore’s the place to go.
I think the ETC’s role—and this has been for a number of years, and they’ve got the data to prove it—is to have a lot of strength really across industries. They’re sector-agnostic, and they provide a number of resources including their Accelerate Baltimore platform: flexible, affordable space.
And then, Spark, of course, is a wonderful location right downtown. They’ve got a really nice vibe as far as a tech hub.
What we’re seeing so far is that the market has really determined where the needs are, and the most important thing from our point of view is that all these folks stay connected, and where the resources are needed, that’s where we can send them.
At the end of the day, I firmly believe that capital is mobile, and I think the good ideas will find money. But in order to tee yourself up for that moment, to get capital—whether the venture firm is based here or not—you’ve got to have a very strong team, you’ve got to have some sort of prototype or initial data or something that’s fairly convincing, and that often requires some initial seed funding. So, we’ve tried to either partner with organizations like Tedco or foundations or gifts, and place some programming around getting that early stage funding.
I’m personally active with the Baltimore Angels, and I think they do a really nice job. I’ve got to give a lot of credit to John Cammack and Greg Cangialosi for putting that group together; it really didn’t even exist a few years ago.
What tips would you give to companies looking for funding?
I think galvanizing the community that cares deeply about the ecosystem and giving them opportunities to invest in companies. I don’t think there’s an easy answer on funding. I think you have to have a really strong business plan. You have to have a really strong team. Your value proposition has to be very crisp. Often, to get to that point requires putting your nose down and doing really hard work and trying to gather some initial seed funding. But I do believe we’re already seeing examples, certainly: RedOwl, ZeroFOX, Windmill—you’re seeing examples where if you have those elements in place you can raise the funding.
Why did you decide to join the Abell Foundation?
I joined the board of the Abell Foundation a little over a year ago, but prior to my arrival, Bob Embry and the board and the staff there had been extremely visionary with the idea of using their balance sheet to invest in local private companies. Over time, they’ve made a number of investments in companies willing to either stay or locate in Baltimore. One aspect is their interest in investments. The second is that they have been very active in grant-making around workforce development and Innovation Hub work they support. They have a wonderful program that they support at the ETC called Accelerate Baltimore, and they also helped us with our FastForward space needs in Baltimore, to build that out and get it ready for entrepreneurs.
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