"*Article originally published on CityBizList"
Who doesn’t look back and wonder what if? What if we begin each week with insight that keeps us from repeating our mistakes? What if we intentionally started each week with a ReSET? Newt Fowler’s biweekly column shares how CEOs refocus on what matters.
John Wasilisin, TEDCO’s President and COO, recently shared with me what he loves about Maryland’s innovation economy, and what he struggles with.
Loves About Our Innovation Economy. John sees a solid foundation and increasing momentum in Maryland. And we’re getting increasingly noticed as building a vibrant innovation sector.
- Collegiality – “When I see entrepreneurs gather to network, I am heartened to see the genuine interest in helping each other out.”For John, building an innovation ecosystem requires balancing each entrepreneur’s competitive edge with collective efforts to make the community better. “Seasoned entrepreneurs sharing their insights, investors talking about opportunities they have looked at, and State and local economic development officials offering resources.”
- Momentum – “Five years ago, Maryland’s innovation economy was fledgling, with fits and starts in pockets around the State. Today, the energy is palpable, as new players join innovation veterans to form an ecosystem that rivals other hotspots around the country.”John sees evidence of this in the increasing number of entrepreneurs and investors looking to Maryland for new opportunities.
- Understanding – For many in our state, John feels “entrepreneurism can be difficult to grasp and the innovation ecosystem can be hard to define.”“Maryland’s policy makers and business leaders are reaching a new understanding and appreciation for the critical role technology-based economic development plays in the State’s economy.”
- Resources – “Maryland’s resources to support innovation and start-up companies are second to none.”John continues, “while more can always be done, the growth and breadth of resources to support innovation development has never been stronger.”
- Giving back –“More successful entrepreneurs are giving back to those just starting out.” This dynamic, from John’s perspective, is at the core of healthy innovation ecosystems around the country, and is beginning to establish itself in Maryland.
Where Maryland’s Innovation Economy Struggles. For John many of these challenges are ones where TEDCO and other state institutions can do better, while others we all share a bit of the blame.
- Diversity – “Reaching groups that have been underserved is an area I know we can do better.” The frustration, for John, is Maryland has great resources, yet many entrepreneurs are unaware of them. “When communities fully participate,” John believes, “the ecosystem becomes foundational for everyone.”
- Celebrating Success – “I know we can do better at celebrating our successes. Everyone knows about Under Armour, and that’s a good thing. But there are many other successes that, while not at the level of UA, are still impressive and significant to Maryland’s economy.”John continued, “we should be celebrating these entrepreneurs and their companies, and recognizing the important role of these risk takers.”
- Access to Capital – “While Maryland registered one of its best years for raising capital in 2015, the truth is the demand far exceeds the supply.”John hopes that successful raises like Tenable’s $250M last year will bring more attention to the innovation community in Maryland and invite investors to take a harder look at the talent in our State.
- Workforce –Maryland has one of the best educated workforces. “Yet many skilled job openings cannot be filled with local residents.” “I hear on a regular basis the frustration of cyber companies looking for highly-skilled employees to advance the company’s technology.”“With the educational resources that we are blessed to have in our State,” John continues, “I know we can do better to address this problem.”
Connectedness – “Maryland is geographically a relatively small state, but you don’t have to drive far to feel like you are entering a completely different world.” John feels a residual sense of distance north to south on the I-95 corridor and more so when venturing west in our state or east to the shore. “When you meet with businesses in these regions, they often present themselves as being disconnected from other parts of the State.”“I know we can do better to bring people together throughout Maryland. I just know it…”