A one-day conference hosted by NSBE–BMAC, the Baltimore chapter of NSBE Professionals, brought more than 50 engineers, technologists, entrepreneurs and others to Hotel RL in downtown Baltimore on Saturday, Nov. 11. The goal of the event, named Minority Innovation Weekend (MIW), was to provide knowledge to enable individuals to turn their technology-based ideas or concepts into viable startup companies.
 
The conference included presentations by subject matter experts on seven topics, among them "Defining the Competition," "Going to Market," "The Pitch" and "Innovating on the Side." McKeever Conwell of Maryland Technology Development Corporation (MD TEDCO) presented on "Defining & Validating Your Idea" and "Funding Your Idea." TEDCO supports the Minority Business Pre-Seed Fund, a partnership between TEDCO and The Harbor Bank of Maryland to fund minority entrepreneurs who have tech-focused ideas.
 
Sherika Wynter led the MIW session
on "Going to Market."
A panel of four startup founders discussed "The Startup Scene in Baltimore," and entrepreneur Luke Cooper gave the keynote address, sharing with the audience some of the challenges he's overcome in his life journey, from his youth in housing projects near New York City to his current position as founder and CEO of Fixt, a fast-growing smartphone and tablet computer repair company. The goal, Cooper said, is not "building great businesses" but to "use them for some greater purpose."
 
Lack of racial diversity among financially successful technology entrepreneurs motivated NSBE–BMAC to hold its event.
 
"With the number of funded tech startups among people of color being around 1 percent, we felt that this was an important program to help get more people of color into the tech startup world," said Chapter President William Redmond.
 
The Minority Innovation Weekend was a collaborative effort: NSBE–BMAC's partners to promote the event were the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers – Washington, D.C. Chapter, the National Society of Black Engineers – Washington, D.C. Metro Area Chapter, the Greater Baltimore Urban League's Greater Baltimore Leadership Association, the Arab American Association of Engineers and Architects – Capital Area, the Morgan State University Entrepreneurial Development & Assistance Center (EDAC), the Black MBA Association – Washington, D.C., and the National Society of Black Engineers – Greater Philadelphia Professionals.
 
The conference was sponsored by The Harbor Bank of Maryland, Will Holmes Consulting, Thomas & Wynter, and Ricky Venters Enterprises.
 
Calvin A. Young, a former NSBE national chair (2012–13), said his current work as vice president for The Harbor Bank Community Development Corporation aligns with NSBE's mission.
 
Duane Rollins explained the advantages
of "MVP" over prototyping.
"Harbor Bank was founded to fill the need of access to financial products and services in this urban market," Young said. "Sponsoring this event tied in well with initiatives in our community development corporation such as our pre-seed fund used to invest in minority startups."

Teresa Clower joined others in giving Minority Innovation Weekend a good review.
 
"As the CEO and founder of a new start-up, the conference generated a lot of ideas about how to continue to expand my market position and my qualifications as a viable partner for more established entities," Clower said. "Overall, it was well-organized, the content was solid, speakers were stellar, and most importantly, it was affordable…. I was able to network with potential business/community partners."
 
Derek Westray, the conference coordinator, said NSBE–BMAC plans to expand the chapter's entrepreneurship training.
 
"NSBE–BMAC hopes to build upon the success of MIW 2017 and increase the amount of content provided for MIW 2018," Westray wrote. "We hope to partner with other organizations in order to build a Minority Innovation Entrepreneurship Program."

- Photos by Quamina Image -