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Baltimore equals innovation: From maker spaces to tech incubators to innovation conferences

In his book “Where Good Ideas Come From – The Natural History of Innovation,” Steven Johnson provides a historical glance showing that contrary to the oft-cited “Eureka!” moments of discovery, most innovation comes from networks of innovative possibilities. Johnson argues for what he calls the adjacent possible, that ideas are spawned from a network of other ideas and even involve the right timing of the cooccurring possibilities and discoveries being necessary for a specific innovation to happen. In this regard, he shows us that we can foster innovation by creating networks that work as a foundation, those that bring like minds together in shared spaces, or allow for collaboration and further discovery. Baltimore is now becoming a space that is ripe for innovation, with many examples of these types of collaborative and imaginative networks showing up in a variety of different fields. The city boasts three maker spaces, multiple tech incubators, and events like Beta City and the Labs @ Light City. These spaces and events, coupled with a region populated by many incredible colleges and universities, as well as the Federal Government institutions nearby, create a rich atmosphere for innovation.

The Baltimore Business Journal has highlighted five top tech incubators, among them Betamore, which heads up Beta City each year, an event giving entrepreneurs and startups a chance to pitch their ideas to Venture Capitalists. Betamore recently announced a planned move to City Garage, an innovative space sponsored by Under Armour. Along with Betamore are incubators at Towson University (TU Incubator) and UMBC (bwtech@UMBC), plus other ventures such as ETC (Emerging Technology Center) which was founded by the Baltimore Development Corporation. These tech incubators foster a strong sense of community within Baltimore, and create spaces where innovation can flourish due to like-minded groups and individuals working together and often sharing space and resources. The connections to capital for investment and spending are also quite important to a start-up.

In the world of makers, an all-encompassing sub-culture that springs from the DIY movements, but incorporates tech and often cutting-edge equipment, Baltimore is now home to three different “maker spaces.” These ventures offer access to a range of equipment and spaces, from woodworking to gadgetry, paint booths to 3D laser cutting equipment. One can easily see how a space where many people working on individual projects in shared space can come together to collaborate and innovate, feeding off each other’s work and ideas for inspiration and drive, something often missed when working alone. Spaces like OpenWorks, Baltimore Node, and City Garage, all offer relatively low-cost access to shared equipment. OpenWorks, for example, hosts 3D printing, metal and woodworking facilities, a computer lab, robotics and electronics spaces, and much more, along with classrooms and studio space.

Along with physical spaces and incubators, organizations like Technical.ly Baltimore are trying to bring innovative minds in the city together. Tehnical.ly does this through job postings, networking events, and information sharing, such as this recent article about a new incubator for social entrepreneurship coming to Baltimore, just one more example of the growing innovation networks in the city. This Spring, the city will once again host Light City, and coupled with it will be the Labs@LightCity: Six innovation mini-conferences focusing on health, the environment, education, social justice, design, and food.

Often cited in Johnson’s book as the ultimate spaces for collaboration, cities are lauded as places where innovation has generally occurred at a faster and more robust pace. Baltimore is proving in so many ways that it is a hub of networks that is prepared to sustain and foster innovation. Let’s see where the next leaps and bounds will take us.

 

Matt Achhammer, Graduate Student

Master of Arts in Emerging Media

Loyola University Maryland