TU, UpSurge partner to make Baltimore nation’s first Equitech City

By Kyle Hobstetter on May 7, 2021

New initiative sees Baltimore as next great tech hub

Jal Irani and Derek Battle of Flave, Cullen Joyce of The Shark Market and Hua Wang of SmartBridge Health are some of the TU StarTUp Accelerator Showcase inaugural fellows.

On April 22, UpSurge Baltimore launched with the intention to find, support, scale and celebrate high-impact startups while also developing strategies to attract new companies, talent and capital.

The mission of UpSurge is to make Baltimore the next great tech city but to also ensure that it’s inclusive. UpSurge and their partners refer to this as Equitech – an inclusive, thriving growth hub at the forefront of innovation that supports companies rather than exclude them.

So, when UpSurge Baltimore and Towson University discussed working together, that dedication to inclusion, equity and entrepreneurship made the decision a no-brainer. TU’s StarTUp Accelerator’s first cohort featured four of six ventures that were minority owned, including one owned by a woman. The second cohort included six of nine minority owned, three of which started by women.

“Entrepreneurship at its best is a meritocracy and is the greatest force for social mobility. As a child of a mixed-race family, Equitech and inclusion to me are not just words. I can’t wait to see where we take the Baltimore region,” says Patrick McQuown, Towson University’s executive director of entrepreneurship.

One of the first initiatives will be the launch of a new Techstars accelerator.  Techstars is a leading national accelerator generating ventures that have an aggregate market cap of over $30 billion dollars. Techstars will welcome the first Baltimore class of 10 startups to a three-month, intensive accelerator program in November. McQuown will serve as a mentor.

Towson University was also highlighted in UpSurge Baltimore’s virtual kick off and public announcement. As an example of equitech and Baltimore entrepreneurs they featured just one Baltimore startup—Flave, which was part of the StarTUp Accelerator’s inaugural class this past fall.

Flave—founded by TU alumnus and current computer and information sciences faculty member Jal Irani ’15—is a mobile app that incentivizes foodies to eat local instead of at chain restaurants through gamification and personalized friend recommendations.

When UpSurge Baltimore approached Irani and his team about partnering, they jumped at the chance to get in on the ground floor.

“It was something that we were very honored to be part of because it’s something we believe in deeply,” Irani says. “It was pretty flattering they reached out to us, and we’re very excited about what they have to bring, not only now but in the future as they start getting their footing in Baltimore.”

Kory Bailey, Director of Relationship Development, UpSurge Baltimore, says TU’s forward-thinking accelerator make it an ideal partner.“TU's StarTUp Accelerator is exceptional because of the quality of people participating in it and diversity is definitely the strength of this latest cohort,” says Bailey. “From founders and their ideas, to the products and services they provide, TU is leading by example when we talk about equitech. The UpSurge team looks forward to championing these often underestimated founders and watching their companies contribute to the growth of Baltimore.”

Starting this fall, TU will have a large-scale, vibrant space for entrepreneurship less than a city block from campus when it officially opens the StarTUp at the Armory, located at the historic, renovated National Guard Armory in downtown Towson.

“At Towson University, I’m proud that we’re investing in creating opportunities through entrepreneurship,” says TU President Kim Schatzel. “When it opens this summer, The StarTUp will connect entrepreneurs and business leaders with each other and TU’s outstanding programs and people. The StarTUp represents our commitment to serve as a catalyst for economic development and new venture creation within the Baltimore region and the state of Maryland.”

McQuown says the finished StarTUp building will truly be a showcase of the importance of entrepreneurship at Towson University.

“I’ve seen entrepreneur centers and spaces at about 40 different universities and colleges and they are always small and exclusive and they are almost always located in the college of business” McQuown says. “We have a two-story 21,000 square feet space and it's a stone’s throw from campus and open to the public. Baltimore County Economic Development will be taking up residency as well as companies from the previous cohorts who have millions in annual revenue. This is like no other space, anywhere.”

The StarTUp is just the latest sign of Towson University’s impact on the community. TU is the sixth largest employer in Baltimore County and there is more than $1 billion in public and private investment underway surrounding campus.

UpSurge Baltimore is a public benefit corporation, formed and funded by a group of local partners, including Abell Foundation, Brown Advisory, Continental Realty, Greenspring Associates, Johns Hopkins, Point Field Partners (the family office of Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti), Towson University, T. Rowe Price, University of Maryland, Baltimore and Whiting-Turner.