How TEDCO’s Urban Business Innovation Program supports entrepreneurs in Prince George’s County

TEDCO, the economic engine for tech companies in Maryland, has a program focused on supporting entrepreneurs and startups by connecting them with resources across the state.

The Urban Business Innovation Initiative (UBII) is designed to support underserved early-stage companies in Maryland’s major urban areas. Mentors in the program come from a variety of backgrounds, enabling businesses to gain access to experts from diverse backgrounds and expertise.

Malcolm Tyson is building an innovation center for Southern Maryland College while running his own consulting business, providing guidance to small and medium-sized businesses. But that wasn’t enough; that’s when he discovered TEDCO’s mentorship opportunities. Last July, he signed on as a consultant for the TEDCO UBII program in Prince George’s County.

“Knowing that I’m in the field is really rewarding, knowing that I can help them not be discouraged when they’re working with them and knowing that their co-workers or co-workers are getting funding for their projects and they’re not black,” Tyson said.

getting Started

TEDCO CEO Troy LeMaile-Stovall launched the program when he officially took over in September 2020. As part of the program’s work, UBII mentors work with a variety of businesses at various stages, whether the business is still operating at the idea stage or seeking to secure funding. Through this process, UBII mentors help founders counsel on issues within their organizations and connect them with the appropriate resources to address them.

TEDCO is also partnering with the Prince George’s County Economic Development Corporation (EDC) to provide UBII access to as many founders in the region as possible.

The EDC is designed to increase the county’s business tax industry and attract businesses that will provide employment to residents. As a result, this program can provide tremendous financial support to founders and women entrepreneurs of color in the region.

“For minority founders who don’t get as much attention as other businesses, programs like this are really important in helping them scale their businesses,” said Ebony Stocks, EDC’s executive vice president. to build an ecosystem of innovative companies.”

lend a helping hand

Living Canopies founder and CEO David Tilly said his company first participated in TEDCO in 2016, when it joined the Maryland Innovation Initiative (MII), which funds the commercialization of technology from university research.

Living Canopies offers ‘living umbrellas’, canopies made of mandevilla flowers and vines. Using edible flowers instead of old-fashioned canopies or parasols can both provide cool shade and combat the “urban heat island effect” — when an influx of human activity causes urban areas to heat up. It offers this product for restaurants, homes and urban spaces.

After the murder of George Floyd in 2020, Tilley and his team decided to shift their focus to creating a product that could help the disenfranchised. Tilly reached out to TEDCO’s UBII program in September for help refining his go-to-market strategy for the company’s upcoming new products, and got in touch with Tyson Foods.

According to recent figures, less than a fifth of the country’s more than 122,000 bus stops have shelters. So Living Canopies created the “Cool Green Shelter,” which is essentially a larger version of a living umbrella designed to protect from bus stops.

Working with UBII, Tilley has had help developing a marketing strategy for the shelter, evaluating and building a successful revenue model, and connecting with individuals across the industry.

When asked about the UBII program, Tilley explained, “They’ve been critical to all of my success. We wouldn’t be where we are today without them.”

Another company benefiting from UBII support is Kinetic Potential (KP), which offers the KP Life platform. The product uses a solid framework of factors to help people find careers that best suit their skills.

Founder and CEO Jim Smith, who has been involved with TEDCO since 2006, uses UBII as he seeks new ways to expand his business and attract job candidates. KP supports the government. The nation’s first workforce development initiative, launched by Larry Hogan in March 2022, eliminated the four-year degree requirement for thousands of jobs in the state.

“They can do a lot more than what TEDCO can fund,” Smith said. “The time and resources they invested in me allowed me to impact the broader Maryland ecosystem through my work.”

Likewise, Tyson thinks the UBII program could do more in Prince George’s County. And with people of color making up more than 60 percent of the county’s nearly 1 million population, the region has no shortage of potential. He believes the county is full of entrepreneurial talent, but minority founders are being overlooked.

“There are a lot of really smart people out there, but I think because they’re a minority, they don’t get the consideration that other people might get,” Tyson said. “While they may have talent and all the ideas, they just don’t know how to get support.”

where do we go from here

Going forward, he hopes UBII will inspire entrepreneurs to rethink and examine the opportunities such programs can offer. Still, entrusting information about the inner workings of a company to an advisor can be a difficult hurdle for many small and medium investors. That’s why UBII mentors make sure to build more than just a business relationship with their mentees.

“There’s distrust in minority communities for these types of institutions because there’s no overt investment logic,” Tyson said. “By being there, the walls come down a little bit, and I can talk to people on a personal level.”

As founders in the region continue to grow their businesses, organizations and investors around Maryland can use UBII as a blueprint for how to effectively elevate minority founders across the state.

“If there are more programs, such as [this] And investors are really serious about investing in minority businesses, and we’re going to see an explosion of growth,” Stokes said. “Businesses are here, but it’s really connecting them to investors, investors Willing to invest in and support businesses that they might not traditionally invest in. “

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