This Fresh Take interview featured Jamie McDonald, CEO of UpSurge Baltimore. JB and Jamie discuss Upsurge’s ‘Equitech’ framework, which anchors its work in a belief that diversity of teams, leadership, and perspectives are a force multiplier for tech company growth. They will also discuss the broader need for equity and inclusivity to power innovation ecosystems across the Capital Region.
Hosted by JB Holston. Produced by Jenna Klym, Justin Matheson-Turner, Christian Rodriguez, and Nina Sharma. Edited by Christian Rodriguez.
Learn from leaders doing the work across the Capital Region and beyond. These conversations will showcase innovation, as well as history and culture across our region, to bridge the gap between how we got here and where we are going.
About our guest:
Jamie Mcdonald is the CEO of UpSurge Baltimore. She is an experienced entrepreneur, movement builder, and speaker. Prior to joining UpSurge, she was an advisor to global entrepreneurs, social innovators, and impact-focused executives. She’s been deeply involved in work on behalf of Baltimore throughout her career.
Jamie has been featured in publications including the Wall Street Journal, the Huffington Post, the Chronicle of Philanthropy, the White House Social Innovation Blog, NTEN, The Baltimore Sun and many others. She is featured in the recently released book, Women Make Great Leaders, by bestselling author, Jill Griffin.
Jamie places a high priority on civic engagement. She has been a longtime Board member of the Center for Urban Families. She was the founding Chair of Light City, an international festival of innovation and light, that attracted more than 470,000 people in 2017. She continues as Chair of the [email protected], one of the country's largest and most unique urban innovation conferences. She also serves on the boards of Open Society Institute, Impact Hub Baltimore, Venture for America, Johns Hopkins Social Innovation Lab, and #MarylandGivesMore. She has previously served on the boards of The Leadership, the Family Tree, Live! Baltimore, The Fund for Educational Excellence, and the Police Athletic League (PAL), among others. She is a past co-chair of the Tocqueville Campaign ($10,000 gifts) for the United Way of Central Maryland and sat on the national board of the Keewaydin Foundation.
Jamie was named Maryland Innovator of the Year in 2012. She is a graduate of the 1997 class of the Greater Baltimore Committee’s Leadership program. She was named one of Baltimore Business Journal’s “40 under 40.” She received the SiloBreaker award from Betamore in 2016. She received the Downtown Partnership's award for impact on Baltimore in 2016. She received the William Donald Schaefer award for the City of Baltimore in 2017. She was recognized as an Activist to Watch in 2017.
Jamie McDonald attended Cornell University for graduate school, focusing on International Development in a joint program between the College of Human Ecology and the Johnson Graduate School of Management. She graduated Summa Cum Laude from Philadelphia University.
Jamie McDonald 0:00
You know, the thing that is so striking is how as so many of the country's brain hubs have really built momentum. The people who have been left behind are often the people who are the natives of those cities.
Nina Sharma 0:20
Welcome to fresh take a candid interview series featuring thought leaders and innovators from across the capital region. These one on one conversations, highlight the incredible work happening in our communities and showcase both where we are and where we are going as a region.
JB Holston 0:40
I'm delighted to have as our guest today Jamie McDonald, Jamie Hello. Hi there JB.
JB Holston 0:47
This is going to be a fun conversation I we're probably going to be completing our sentences because a lot of Jamie's journey to do her work in mind have some similarities, which will be fun to talk about. Let me do a little bit of an introduction and then we're going to dive in on questions. Jamie is the CEO of upsurge Baltimore. She's an experienced entrepreneur, movement builder, speaker and workshop leader. Prior to joining upsurge, she was an advisor to global entrepreneurs, social innovators, impact focused executives, at companies, organizations and philanthropies. We'll talk more about upsurge Jamie but a little bit for the for the audience upstairs Baltimore launched in 2021, to found support, scale and invest in high impact startups. upsurges, a public benefit corporation. I'll talk a little bit about that with Jamie working to propel Baltimore into the top tier of innovation. city's mission is to do more than just build the next great Tech City is building the country's first equity Tech City and it'll be fun to talk a little bit about how our equity tech is defined. One thing Jamie and I have in common is that she worked from the age of nine I might have started when I was eight or so. Although I did not have such a such a great name for my little business as tiny tots tumbling school. But obviously an inveterate entrepreneur for that long term. Also, in 2011, Jamie cofounded became CEO of gift, Cora, crowdfunding and community building software platform that was acquired in 2014, by Network for Good one of the nation's largest online giving software platforms, long history in private equity as well. And we'll talk a little bit more about your background. But Jamie, thanks again for joining us. It's great to see you today.
Jamie McDonald 2:25
Thanks for having me. JB Great to be here.
JB Holston 2:27
Great. So in order to start off with the disarming kind of question, the What was your favorite takeout food over the last the last year and then and then more importantly other than joining upsurge what any particular small business up in Baltimore that you were trying to support during during COVID?
Jamie McDonald 2:48
That's a great question. You know, my, my most passionate hobby is cooking. So I we do some takeout but i have to say i what i have really, you know, in COVID I've always loved to cook but I've probably never had more focus on cooking when we couldn't go out and so you know, I've done I've done more cooking in the last two years than then I had for the 30 years prior to that and I also had my kids with me for a period of time during COVID so back to having a house full again, like when they were younger. But But if I have to you know, they're they're almost too many great takeout places in Baltimore to mention but certainly ecke ban Bodhi Tavern tavern, which is a great Thai place in Hamden. Cavell, which is an incredible, also an incredible entrepreneur who owns club and a number of other restaurants in Baltimore, as a great spot. So you know, take your pick, Baltimore is we're just really fortunate, we've got an incredible food scene. And then small businesses, Boy, that's pretty much all I support. So I'd have a hard time picking, I really, really try hard to, you know, to buy local and, and particularly kind of the are made in Baltimore, built in Baltimore, small businesses and I and again, we have a really thriving small business culture in Baltimore. So lots to choose from, and I would welcome any of your listeners up to Baltimore for a tour of all these amazing places at some point.
JB Holston 4:30
That's great. Well, we can start doing that now. So we will, yeah, we'll have to follow up on that. And, and I'm sure one of one of the folks listening in is ticked on the names of those restaurants so that we can make sure that have those on that tour. When we when we go up. You know, you've had quite a personal journey. And I'd love to just hear from you a little bit about what brought you to this work because you've clearly done lots of different sorts of things and not everyone tries to end up being a sort of, servant leader in in the public benefits. So talk a little bit about what brought you here Yeah, to this word Jamie.
Jamie McDonald 5:04
I mean, I kind of think of my life like so many of us who are in our mid 50s, I've had a you know, if it's a book, I've probably got a book with four or five significant chapters. And, you know, I spent my, my growing up life in Philly. So I'm a city kid from, you know, split my time early on in Center City, and then in South Philly, in the 70s. And in the 70s, the South Philly, the thing that is a picture people can put in their minds was sort of like the movie Rocky, like, that was my neighborhood where I grew up. And, you know, I was a, I was a kid who always, always made a lot of interest and from Sports to, to school and academics and, and so that's how we reference my first little business I, I was a gymnast growing up, and I, you know, and I like, that's how I got to start that, that tiny tots tumbling class and was able to buy myself a few things that my mother couldn't afford. So it was it was a great lesson in the value of entrepreneurship. But ultimately, I came to Baltimore after graduate school. And you know, what my, that first period of my career, the first 17 years pretty significant amount of time, nobody stays in jobs, 17 years anymore. But I was at Alex Brown, and then Alex brown merged with Bankers Trust, and then ultimately, we were acquired by Deutsche Bank, and I was there through all of that, I spent the bulk of my time when I was Alex Brown, covering what today we would as a broad category called private equity firms. But back in the day, we call them venture and leveraged buyout funds. We, you know, we were Alex Brown was a national specialty investment bank, we had a focus on seven industries and, and a global footprint in those seven industries. And, and what we realized, you know, when I was relatively early in my career there was that, you know, our relationships with private equity funds were a huge pipeline of business for us. And but at that point, we had no organized effort to cover them. And so I did the background work working with, with a couple of our senior folks to figure out what that structure should look like. And then they ultimately asked if I would take that on and leave that with another colleague. So that was what I did for the bulk of my time at Alex Brown had, you know, an up close look at both the, you know, the startup world at that point. And at Sorry, I'm turning off my slack notifications, I thought I did this, but I've got many workspaces, I'm very sorry. And, but also obviously got to see, you know, the private equity landscape. Up close as well. And, and, and at that time, I mean, it's so different today. Because one, the country is just awash in money. In the private equity world, they can't deploy funds fast enough. And, but what it means is, it's both a blessing and a curse, because you know, it's people, they have to make an impact in their portfolios, these funds have got to put bigger chunks of money to work at a time. So there's a lot we could talk about as it relates to that, because it's very relevant to cities the size of Baltimore, as they're thinking about how to grow a startup economy. The next phase of my career, I became an entrepreneur. And you mentioned my second company, which company called gift core that I started with a colleague in 2011 and sold in 2014. And because of the nature of the work we were doing there, we were doing civic engagement and community building, I got connected with the early hashtag social movements, you know, we today, we sort of take that for granted, but in 2012, and 2013, we still would get a lot of questions about why you're putting a pound sign in front of your name, right. So um, and what's uh, one of the, one of the hashtag movements I got connected to was Giving Tuesday,
Jamie McDonald 9:22
very much in that community building, giving space. And, and when I when I left, and after we sold the company to Network for Good, I stayed on for a year and then I went out on my own. And I sort of took what I learned in that movement building world, I've worked at that point, as just a partner with Giving Tuesday for a number of years. But realize that the practices of movement and building that were redefining how social impact was happening in the world, were incredibly relevant to companies as well, because we were already starting to see we didn't have language for it, but we already were starting to see that companies that thought more about community than customers grew in a different way. And so the best example that most people understand is is Harley Davidson. Right? Harley has always been a company that has thought more about community than customers, and that they didn't call themselves a movement. But in many ways, what they, what they showed, you know, many other companies was that there's a, there's a stickiness to your relationship with customers, when you actually think about them as a community, and not just connect them to you, but connect them to each other. And a lot of that movement building, sort of learning that was starting to really become codified in the social space, I was able to take from the lens I had there and really work with a bunch of companies on how to think more like movements. And so that was sort of that next phase of my time, you know, I worked as an advisor and speaker and that a zillion workshops, and a lot of zooms before everybody else in the world was on zooms and, and was really having a great time doing all of that working with folks around the world. But when COVID hit and I, like so many people started to think not just about what do I want to be thinking about if I was sitting on eight hours a day of zooms, but also what's the mark, I want to leave in the world, if we're sort of looking at a potentially changed world on the heels of COVID. And I, my heart kept pushing me back to Baltimore, but that's the place that I care most about in the world, I also think Baltimore is a place that is just such an unpolished gem in many ways that just needs a little buffing and, you know, it can truly be a model for the world. And so I started really connecting with some of our both grassroots civic leaders and our corporate leaders in Baltimore, and from a whole series of conversations over the course of about six months absurd was born. And that, you know, brings us to today, so, so, four chapters and and I'm couldn't be more thrilled to be focused on what I'm focused on now.
JB Holston 12:21
Great, well, thank you for that. And you know, as upsurge goes from chapter to book, you can you can, you can publish that volume. But let's talk more if we can Jamie about upsurge and, you know, feel free, of course, to share that slide, if that's useful, but I think your upsurge as a private benefit Corp as an investment vehicle, the corporate partnerships to it, it's your your effort to kind of help Baltimore become as known as it should be in the innovation economy. All that is, is really interesting, and, and relevant. So I'd love to, I'd love to hear more about how you talk about what upsurges what you can share with the group about how they should think about it.
Jamie McDonald 12:58
All right, yeah. So I will actually just pop up one slide. Because it's helpful, I think, to see this picture. So you mentioned in your introduction, that our aspiration is to be more than just the country's next great Tech City. That alone would be a laudable aspiration. So taking nothing away from the cities around the country, you know, for whom that is a focus. But, you know, but as I really thought about my experience working in cities across the country, you know, the thing that is so striking is how, as so many of the country's brain hubs have really built momentum. The people who have been left behind are often the people who are the natives of those cities. And so in, you know, in places like San Francisco and Austin and Boston and Seattle, and LA and New York, you know, most of the participants in the knowledge economy, there are people that are either from somewhere else, or people who were from somewhere else, but who were, you know, had a pedigree or were set of privileges that gave them an easy connection into those knowledge economies. And so those cities, while then on, many measures are kept thriving. They are also in most instances, the most wealth, most wealth divided cities in the country. And so as we thought about the way that we wanted to build upsurge, we felt like it was important to really think about, you know, how we can redefine what it means to be a thriving startup city. And in many ways, I think that we're very timely in our aspirations, because this is where the world is going. We're just going to be the first ones to actually do it really well. And so, you know, so we created this sort of lexicon with Aqua tech as our defining vision. And what Aqua tech means is, you know, that we aspire to become The country are the world's first truly inclusive tech economy. And so what that means is we have to think beyond just companies. And so that's this, this image that I'm sharing, sort of puts it all into a picture. So the four core things that we, you know, work on day in and day out on the left hand side here. So, one, we have to nurture and grow the companies who are here. You know, I would say all the time, you can't have equity tech without tech, right? You have. So you got to start by building that tech economy that that is flourishing in Baltimore. And we have an incredible start. I mean, Baltimore has already by many measures can a top 10 Tech City, we have unbelievable anchor institutions, which I know we were going to talk about a little bit later in terms of higher ed and corporate leaders, and then our thriving small business community. And we have a legacy base of investors who are here and new investors who are launching funds in Baltimore, because they see the opportunity here. So that's really the that's that top box. The second box is that we want to play a role attracting and investing in companies directly. And so we've partnered with TechStars, to launch the first global equity tech accelerator here in Baltimore. We've got some other tech stars news, which will be coming in a couple of weeks I can't really talk about now, but that will continue to build on our work with them. And we anticipate down the road other potential direct investment vehicles that can be housed under upsurges umbrella, that are all propelling this Aqua tech vision. The third piece, which has to happen simultaneously, and I think that these two bottom boxes are really what distinguish our approach to what has happened in the other cities across the country, is that we are simultaneously working with Mayor Scott's administration and with partners across the city on two bodies of work one around pathways, so how are we building more points of
Jamie McDonald 17:07
intersection into the knowledge economy more points of access into the knowledge economy? For baltimoreans? How are you making sure that starting all the way down with our middle schoolers, that we are demonstrating that the knowledge economy is a is an aspirational path in the same way that so many young baltimoreans think of as media or, you know, or athletics are an aspirational path, we want them to see startups in the knowledge economy as an aspirational path, but then we have to deliver on the other side. So we also have to be working with our companies to say, what barriers do you have in place that as we have a base of, you know, talent ready for the knowledge economy in Baltimore, that there are jobs on the other side that they can get and grow in. And so we've got a credible partner group in Baltimore called Baltimore tracks, which is a group of almost 30 local startups that have committed to a series of changes in their hiring practices, like eliminating degree requirements, and recruiting in different places and sharing candidates so that qualified baltimoreans have a higher likelihood of being able to connect into the knowledge economy and find those high quality jobs, that we're going to promise that now this is a long term vision that doesn't take that doesn't change overnight. But but we're working on that with intention right now, I have a person on my team who does nothing but think about this. The other side of that is the underlying policy work that we, again, are working on with, with Mayor Scott's team to make sure that as you know, as our knowledge economy grows, and as our talent and workforce grows, that we're thinking about what those policies around real estate, education and transportation are, that can undergird, you know the acceleration of the ecosystem. And then the final thing, and this I think, is where we're really breaking a lot of new ground is we have a core, a core value that underlies our eco tech vision that we call prosper in place. And so we think of this as our anti gentrification approach. So what happens in so many other places is that as the you know, the tech economy grows. And you are building a burgeoning workforce, often imported from you know, other places. So again, this is where our pathways work hopefully starts to counteract some of this import. Not that we don't want amazing people from other we want to grow from within and from without. But often, you know, if, if it's a if it's a token person who is able to access the knowledge economy and they start to build, you know, cute simulate some family wealth, they may decide like I don't want to stay where I am, because I don't want to be the only person on my block who's, you know, who's beginning to build wealth for their families, I want to sort of live in a neighborhood with other people who are experiencing what I'm experiencing. And so what we have been thinking very deliberately about is, how do we create the opportunity for more baltimoreans using technology. And so one of the real sort of deep dives we've been doing with some partners on the west coast, is where can blockchain and real estate ownership potentially come together so that more baltimoreans can in essence, own a piece of their block, own a piece of the apartment building that they might be renting in, so that they're building wealth, at the same time, hopefully, that they are finding these better quality jobs that move them from just sustenance, as a family, to family advancement, and then ultimately, to, you know, economic freedom. So so the prosper in place, pilots are a really critical part of this. And so if you just follow this chart, the rest of it is pretty obvious. So if we do those four things, well, what happens is we start to really build velocity, we scale our pathways and our policy work, we start to tell this story across the country of the unique thing that's happening here. And then as you carry that whole vision forward, five, 810 years, you know, Baltimore fulfills this vision of not just being a thriving diverse innovation city, but a model for the country in the world. And that is, in a picture what we are trying to do.
JB Holston 21:38
Yeah, well, that's great. And, you know, as I know, you and I spoke before, but a lot of echoes to what we were able to do, you know, in Denver over the last 20 years, but with with, with equality and inclusion and diversity at the center of your work, which is I think, something that Denver is seeking to do to a greater degree. Now, as you mentioned, there are lots of innovation hubs that have sprouted up, got to that late.
Jamie McDonald 22:03
And I think that what a lot of these cities have learned is it's hard to retrofit it. And that's why we felt like it was really critical to do it from the beginning. And Baltimore is a city with a, you know, incredible base of, you know, diverse, brilliant people. So we are very logical place to be the groundbreakers on this.
JB Holston 22:24
Yeah, I think, you know, we share, obviously, our remit is regional Baltimore, through Richmond, but I think a lot of what you just mentioned about Baltimore, applies to this region. Generally, you know, it's got a strength of diversity, it's got a ton of tremendous assets. And I think, you know, our certainly view has been that growth is a direct function of inclusion right now, and sort of more, all of us are collectively focused on inclusion. Now, with all the work. It seems like a moment in time when there's a lot of support. For that, Jimmy, let me talk a little bit about upsurge as a construct or as an investment vehicle. I know it's a it's a public benefit Corp, and you've gotten a lot of support from lots of, you know, the major institutions in the region. Talk a little bit about why you funded as a public benefit Corp, if you would. And then also, if you would, you mentioned the TechStars connection, maybe talk a little bit about what the your supporters are investing in, because obviously, you've got a vehicle and then it has other vehicles as well.
Jamie McDonald 23:21
I mean, really, everything is under one vehicle. So it's just just not to confuse people. But so we, you know, we evaluated a lot of different possible structures. And where we landed and the rationale for the public benefit Corp, which is a, you know, it's a, it's a, it's a corporate structure that exists right now in 10 states and is rapidly being adopted in other states was really pioneered on the west coast. And, and the the rationale for us, and I think there are different reasons that people choose to become public benefit corpse. But the rationale for us was that we wanted to be able to encompass our broad ecosystem mission, but also wanted the flexibility to have some investment vehicles that were mission aligned. And so the TechStars eco tech accelerator is the first investment vehicle that falls under upsurge investments. But we anticipate in 2022, that will launch a national equity tech prize, which would be another investment into one or potentially a couple of companies that fulfill our equity vision, but that decide to locate in Baltimore. And then there may be other kinds of you know, pools that will want to work with others to partner and bring to Baltimore over time. And so our aspiration is not that we become fund managers, we think of it more absurd investments will operate more like a fund of funds where we'll look for very strong mission aligned funding partners who are either looking at investments and underestimated entrepreneurs or are looking at investments in sectors that we think are particularly germane to equity tech. So for example, you know, we talk a lot in equity tech about it not just being about underestimated founders or companies grounded in diversity. But the third category of eco tech companies is companies whose technology itself is increasing equity. So there's a whole series of companies like their insurance companies that are cropping up right now that are looking at how actuarially to evaluate people with non traditional backgrounds in new ways. So they can provide good insurance, there are credit rating, software companies now that are looking at how you can use character versus, you know, pure numerical data to assess someone's credit worthiness we think of those as equity tech companies, nearly any healthcare technology that is either increasing access or reducing cost is an equity company, right? So so so the so we think that there's an opportunity to have these other investment vehicles, under the upsurge umbrella in sort of a loosely a fund to fund structure. Now, we're not a fund, and we're very clear about that. But that, but conceptually, that would be a way for your listeners to think about it. The other rationale for the structure is, as much as I have worked with, and I'm an intense admirer of the work of nonprofits, I believe that the nonprofit funding system is broken, and that it tamps down innovation, that it prevents nonprofits from being visionary and strategic, and that the power dynamic between funders and nonprofits, not universally but can be unhelpful in actually driving change. And so that might not be opinion, some people like to hear but that's my view. And so I did not want to be on this sort of nonprofit hamster wheel of having every three years to read justify my 10 year vision. And, and so we felt like this structure also allowed us to be self sustaining, because we should have returns are sufficient to, you know, allow us to continue to, to do our work in the long run and to maintain this visionary long term aspiration. And we also wanted a vehicle that all different kinds of people could participate in. So the public benefit Corp structure allows us to have both grand tours and investors invest in us. And they don't choose between the investment side and the ecosystem work. Everybody that comes in comes into this pool public benefit vehicle. They invest in both. So so that was the rationale. And you know, we're six months in so
Jamie McDonald 28:05
well, we'll see if it fulfills our expectations over time, because it is not, you know, it's still not a widely used structure. So we don't have a ton of long term examples to look at to sort of understand what the pitfalls might be, but we feel pretty optimistic about the structure we've developed.
JB Holston 28:22
It's great. If you can maybe talk a little bit about some of the organizations that have stepped up to support. You mentioned, I know some of the higher ed, foundational institutions in the region, but a number of the corporations as well. Yeah. So
Jamie McDonald 28:36
we have, we have 11 or 12 supporters at this point. meaningful supporters are our lead investor is point filled partners which is deep Ashanti's family office steepish. He's the owner of the Baltimore Ravens. Brown advisory t Rowe Price. Greenspring associates Whiting Turner, continental realty Johns Hopkins University of Maryland, Towson University and on and on the abl foundation You know, they're so we have Foundation, corporate and an academic partners all in our, in our supporter group. And, you know, we are we're still you know, we're sort of still out there in the in conversation with quite a few other partners we've had, we've got a lot of momentum, we've got a lot of even in six months, we've had some pretty significant successes. I guess I would say, I don't I don't want to sound boastful but we've you know, we've we've done a lot of work in a short amount of time to really start to build some velocity in the ecosystem and just some alignment of interest in focus. And so you know, so we're, we're, we're continuing to build that base of support both locally and with some potential national partners as
JB Holston 29:58
well. That's great. Well, that's it Tremendous amount of momentum in a short period of time with some really big names. I was very involved, you know, like you I was involved in creating a thing called the Colorado impact fund about a $65 million fund about boys probably eight years now whatever. Love the conversation then with the supporters ultimately, was this question of return versus benefit and social impact? How have you been having that conversation with your investors now are things matured to the point that they kind of get get that? Or is that something that you need to need to help them understand as you as you as you pitch them?
Jamie McDonald 30:33
Look, it's not because of the way we're structured, and the fact that we are not the ones, you know, we're not like picking individual companies, you know, so we're not a, you know, we're not direct investors. But TechStars has a track record that they that we can point to, that's over the, you know, it's over 1000s of companies and, and right now, since they're the initial, you know, anchor investment vehicle, you know, we can talk about the potential blended, you know, returns between our operating and overhead and, and then what the, you know, the investment in tech stars should yield. And, you know, as other investment vehicles come online, you know, again, because we are not looking to create things from whole cloth, those other investment partners will come in with a track record that we'll be able to articulate and, and we've got a, you know, we've got an advisory board that's got a lot of thoughtful people on it. And, you know, when we, we've got a smaller group that, you know, will evaluate those future partners that are, you know, expert investors. And so, I think that will, you know, we, the conversations are not super complicated, because it's not like we're coming up with some unique investment thesis and hiring investment professionals and doing all the things that a fund would have to do. You know, we're partnering with other experienced, you know, funds, and essentially using that relationship as a way both to fulfill this Aqua tech mission mission, attract companies to Baltimore and encourage them to stay and grow here. And by virtue of that work, our investors get some kind of return.
JB Holston 32:19
Yeah. Maybe we can talk a little bit about higher ed. And if you think back to the map of that you started with pirate obviously has lots of ways they can contribute, or in some cases can slow down the effort to really accelerate innovation economy. Talk a little bit about that in the in the in the ball in the Baltimore region.
Jamie McDonald 32:42
Yeah, I mean, I think here they are nothing but accelerators. You know, they so we we have Baltimore, I think, depending on how you define whether it's the city or the, or, or the city, and the seven counties were either number one or two in the country in terms of most colleges and universities per capita with Boston. And so we, we are so fortunate to have, you know, incredible universities from obviously Johns Hopkins and University of Maryland, the largest, but Morgan State University, Coppin State University, Loyola College, you NBC voucher, you know, there we just we have a, you know, a base of an our terrific community colleges as well. So we have an academic base in Baltimore, that is, you know, really peerless for a city our size, and, and they are deeply engaged in our work. they intersect and impact every stage of that chart that I showed, because they are, they're developing sciences that can be commercialized, they are, you know, they are ambassadors for Baltimore, out in the world. They're mentors and advisors to companies, they're commercializing technologies, you know, out of, you know, Johns Hopkins tech ventures and the Baltimore fund at the University of Maryland and the bioparc. In many instances, they create Centers of Excellence around industries so that if we're attracting a company to Baltimore, and perhaps they want an expert in, in some kind of cyber engineering, like we have that in spades here, and so, you know, so so our, I think, you know, in our case here in Baltimore, our academic institutions are really embedded in everything that is happening in the innovation economy, they're certainly innovation economy leaders here. Well, before upsurge ever existed, and we could not, I don't think we could do what we aspired to do, without the partnerships with them. And in particular, I think one of the You know, perhaps less known things about Baltimore's higher ed. Community is that we have two historically black colleges, Morgan State and Coppin within the city limits, we have you MDC, which is just a couple minutes south of the city. And those three, you know, Morgan in new NBC in particular, are the, among the top two or three schools in the country, for graduating black stem graduates. And, you know, and so the tat and Morgan, in terms of engineering is the top school in the country for Black Engineers. So, you know, so we, we have some strengths in our academic ecosystem that contribute to the power of our Eco, our of our eco tech vision, and the talent pipeline that can be part of really fueling the kinds of companies that we hope will choose Baltimore as a home, or get launched and grow in Baltimore, that are just different from other places. And so we really see them not just as powerful overall innovation partners. But in particular, when we think about the Aqua tech vision, we think we've got strengths that are very different from other places.
JB Holston 36:11
And let me ask the same question in the context of the corporate supporters of the organization. Obviously, they can provide financial capital to move things forward. But how else do you think about the role they've got to play in delivering on this 10 year vision?
Jamie McDonald 36:27
I mean, again, there's, you know, we're, we're fortunate because our direct supporters are digging in with us in a whole range of ways, other corporate partners in town, you know, we're, we're still engaging with even, even as we continue to talk to them about, you know, the sort of the broad aspirations of upsurge and how they can participate. But, you know, I really think about the relationship with, with corporations and a thriving startup community as very symbiotic. Because I think big companies need the the that sort of energy and dynamism and boundary pushing that small companies bring to a business ecosystem. It for direct things like corporate development, and that kind of thing. But for you know, even less, you know, I think if you think about our, our brain hubs across the country, you see big companies moving to the places that have big active startup ecosystems, right, because they want the energy of those, like edge thinkers that you find in startups. Also, in, in cities where there's a really dense base. So startups, you tend to also see strong arts communities, strong writer communities, strong food communities, right, a lot of that tends to go hand in hand. So they also can create, you know, cities with great quality of life. And so I think from our corporate partners perspective, they will see benefits from a growing and accelerating startup community, both, you know, like economic benefits, but also intangibles that make it a better place to grow as a company to recruit new talent. And then in terms of direct opportunities to partner, our corporate. You know, workforce can be experts. So we're tapping into roundtables, for example of marketing experts of HR experts that are willing to hold office hours for startups that can't afford to have an in house HR person, but they need 20 minutes of somebody's time, once a month to get some advice on how to you know, think about approaches to things same with lots of different skills, so operations, HR, marketing, legal, there's a whole bunch of those kind of just specialized skills that until a company is theories, C or beyond, they typically aren't having, you know, dedicated in house people providing some of those kinds of, of skilled resources. So that's one place we really see our corporate community playing, they can invest in companies, they can be advisors and mentors to companies, they can host companies for lunch, get to know you lunches, they can be customers, they can be pilot partners. So one of the things that we've seen has been really, you know, powerful in a lot of other places is, is that a company will you know, San Francisco has been really good at this, but their big companies will be pilot partners for their startups. And of Denver, I think also has actually had some real success with this where a young technology that you know, they need a real live pilot to see how it's working. And so that large company can actually pay to be a pilot partner help really get an early look at a new technology, but also give the kind of real world feedback that a startup needs to be successful. So lots and lots of ways that corporate partners can both benefit from a thriving startup company. and contribute.
JB Holston 40:02
Let's talk a little bit about the broader region. I know you're obviously very focused on Baltimore in that immediate region as well. But if you think about the broader region, obviously, our remit is Baltimore to Richmond, we define it that way, or as I call it, given that I was in Colorado until relatively recently, the Front Range of the Middle Atlantic, and no one so far has taken me up on that proposed descriptor. But if you think about the broader range, the broader region, Jamie, what are? What are some of the strengths and weaknesses of it more broadly? And, you know, do we need in a sort of an upsurge DC and an upsurge Richmond? And how do you how do you think about the broader the broader geography? Well,
Jamie McDonald 40:43
you know, it's a really good question, because I know that we, that, that things like this term, DMV, and obviously what you guys are thinking about with, you know, the, the Baltimore, Washington, Richmond, you know, area. You know, I think it's tricky, because I think that the, you are talking about both cities, and then they're surrounding, you know, suburbs, and, you know, the rural areas that are between them, that are all quite distinct. Baltimore is very, very different from DC, which is very different from Richmond. And, and so while I would say it differently, I, you know, I'm, I think it would be great if there was an upsurge in all those places, but what I would more like to see is that F witek becomes a vision for the greater region, that we see that, you know, that we could be taking what we're going to, you know, we're going to pioneer in Baltimore, we're going to do a lot of learning here. And then, you know, we can take what has been learned here, and I think, you know, our goal is not to hold equity, close, our goal is that equity becomes the ubiquitous approach to building startup communities across the country, we're just going to pioneer it in Baltimore, and create the model that the country can follow. So you know, so when I think about the broader region, you know, I think that, that there are assets and strengths, that, that exist in each of these cities, that we should be thinking very deliberately about how to leverage across the region, I also think that the entire region would rise if the region thought more about Baltimore, and the vital role that Baltimore could play in sort of anchoring the north end of the region, you know, I think, in a lot of ways, people in DC think, you know, Maryland ends at montgomery county, and, you know, they don't really think beyond I don't mean that of you, but I think that that's a I think there's some real DC bias there. Although interestingly, you know, one of the, of the dynamics that we're dealing with right now that's challenging in Baltimore, actually is that, um, you know, DC is real estate market has been so, you know, pricey, that so many Washingtonians are moving to Baltimore, and kind of pricing baltimoreans out of the market here in some communities, and it's, it's something that we're, we're seeing, it's, it's great to have a little bit of that mixing and exciting to, you know, to see people that realize that were, you know, 25 minutes on the SLR and 40 minutes on the mark train, you know, so it's pretty easy commute from Baltimore to DC and vice versa. But, you know, but what we would love to see is that, you know, Baltimore has, you know, as the same kind of economic growth, the same kind of, you know, stature among the, you know, the three cities in the region, and really is viewed as sort of, you know, the, the, the northern leader of the region in the way that Washington is the central leader, and we hope return is viewed as the southern leader. And so we'd love to, we'd love to draw on the strengths of the entire region in support of Baltimore.
JB Holston 44:22
Great. Well, thanks for that. As we predicted at the start, we're, we're Of course at time, sadly. But just one last question and one comment too, I'd commend anyone who's interested that they subscribe to the upshot, your, your newsletter, I think it's just a terrific way to, to both get a sense of the vitality, and also keep track of some of the great things that are happening up there. My last question, I know this may not be as short as we've got. But when you look back 10 years from now, what will success look like?
Jamie McDonald 44:56
Yeah, I mean, look, one thing about vision is you know, you have to You got to be realistic about the idea that you have to you have like a broad concept. But like we've got a, it's a community driven vision. So we're going to take it, where it where it goes with the support of our community. But essentially what we hope we see is that Baltimore is a hub for companies led by underestimated founders, that we have the country's most diverse tech workforce, that we have a, you know, more baltimoreans accessing more high quality jobs, but being able then to invest back in their neighborhoods and improve their neighborhoods and prosper in place. And we will be written about in journals across the world about how an inclusive tech economy was was built.
JB Holston 45:50
Yeah, well, that's terrific. And, you know, obviously the partnership is in support of all of those objectives for all the reasons that you just mentioned our you know, our hashtag has been inclusive growth, but, but we'll be promoting equity tech, more certainly, as one as well. Jamie, thanks so much for the time today. It's been great to talk to you thanks for the work that you're doing. Continued Good luck, with upsurge my guest has been Jamie McDonald, CEO of upsurge Baltimore. Thanks very much, Jamie. Thanks really great to talk to you again soon. Thanks, everyone for joining us.
Nina Sharma 46:27
Thanks for tuning into fresh take. This episode was produced by Jenna climb, Justin Matheson Turner, Kristian Rodriguez and Nina Sharma. If you like what you heard, share it with your network. For more information and to access all of our podcasts, events and publications, visit Greater Washington partnership.com.