Three years ago, the members of the National Society of Black Engineers – Baltimore Metropolitan Area Chapter (NSBE–BMAC) noted a need for greater support of minority innovators to establish technology- and science-based startup companies. Their observation led to the launch of an annual event: NSBE–BMAC’s Minority Innovation Weekend, also known as MIW. The third Weekend, held at the University of Baltimore’s Thumel Business Center on Oct. 12–13, 2019, offered an expanded lineup of events designed to provide attendees with the knowledge to develop an idea or concept to create a tech- or science-focused business and to attract capital providers to support their success.
 
The theme of MIW 2019 was “Hacking Innovation.” Seeing that minority populations have less access to early-stage capital and other resources needed to launch STEM-focused business, the MIW 2019 Planning Committee reasoned that to have a chance at being successful, minority entrepreneurs must “hack” their way to that success.
 
“‘Hack’ is defined as a clever tip or technique for doing or improving something, and ‘innovation’ is a new idea, method or device. At MIW 2019, we hoped to educate tech and science entrepreneurs and prospective entrepreneurs and provide them with resources to grow or launch their business,” said NSBE–BMAC member Derek Westray, an electrical engineer, who helped organized the conference. “By bringing in speakers that have ‘done it before,’ we hoped to provide attendees with knowledge and access so they could ‘hack’ their own success.”
 
MIW 2019 offered three conference tracks:
 
  • Startup Fundamentals covered many of the steps required to take a tech-focused idea or concept and launch a successful company. “Defining an Idea,” “Developing a Minimum Viable Product,” “Funding Your Idea” and “Investing in Minority Innovation” were among the topics of the track;
 
  • Hacking Health Equity Challenges With Technology was designed for individuals and organizations from various fields interested in discussing and solving problems at the intersection of technology and health equity and addressing health disparities afflicting minority communities, through technology; and
 
  • Cybersecurity assembled brilliant minds in this critical field. The track included two days of insightful presentations and discussions to equip attendees with the knowledge to tackle current cyber threats and advance their careers.
 
The conference also offered a pitch competition for early- and middle-stage tech startups. The competition gave participating firms the opportunity to pitch their businesses to investors for the chance to win various resources such as office space, curricula and mentorship. The winners of the pitch competition were MindStand Technologies, Roadi, and Justis Connection. Each winning company received a six-month membership to the Emerging Technologies Centers (ETC) Incubate Baltimore program.
 
The Minority Innovation Weekend is part of NSBE–BMAC’s Minority Innovation Entrepreneurship Program.
 
“We are working to establish a pool of local resources to support tech entrepreneurs of color throughout the year rather than one weekend,” explained Westray. “NSBE-BMAC has a partnership with ETC to provide two companies from the Innovation Marketplace and Pitch Competition with a six-month membership to Incubate Baltimore. Our goal is to partner with other organizations to provide the resources. We have begun to develop promising partnerships and look forward to expanding MIW in future years.”
 
“I think (the MIW) is very valuable, because it provides a channel for tech entrepreneurs to build stronger networks within the community,” said Opeyemi Thomas, cofounder and CEO of Roadi, a company that provides on- and off-street parking recommendations using historical and real time data. “These networks are what help enterprising individuals create more value and opportunities for others.”
 
“I have participated in several pitch competitions before,” Thomas said. “MIW’s was well organized and had a high quality of judges with valuable questions to ask. I participated in the (Innovation Marketplace) as well, which was very valuable for learning how other entrepreneurs are building their businesses and solving the challenges they face in that process.”
 
In the run-up to MIW 2019, NSBE–BMAC held a STEM Professional Career Fair, on Oct. 9, during Baltimore Innovation Week. The career fair was open to individuals with backgrounds in STEM who were looking for new career opportunities.


MIW 2019 Sponsors and Supporters:

BaltiVirtual
Emerging Technologies Centers (ETC)
The Ingenuity Project
M&T Bank
Mackkell Technologies
Maryland Department of Commerce
Miner & Kasch
Stanley Black and Decker
T. Rowe Price Foundation
University of Baltimore Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation (CEI)