THE BLOG
09/29/2015 05:36 pm ET Updated Sep 28, 2016

Rise of the Rest-Baltimore: Why Charm City is also Comeback City

"You got to. This America, man!"
-Opening scene of the TV series The Wire

"Now it catches the gleam of the morning's first beam, in full glory reflected now shines in the stream: 'Tis the star-spangled banner! Oh long may it wave...O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!"
-Francis Scott Key, the largely-ignored second verse of the Star Spangled Banner

This week, we'll be blogging from the fourth launch of the Rise of the Rest tour--an initiative launched by Steve Case, founder of AOL, and his firm Revolution which we at my firm Village Capital are partners. The Rise of the Rest initiative's flagship activity is a bus tour, which this week covers five great Northeast cities: Baltimore, Philadelphia, Buffalo, Manchester, and Portland.

Why this tour? Entrepreneurs have the opportunity to build the world we want to live in. Despite this promise, not everyone is fulfilling the promise of entrepreneurship:
• 75% of venture capital in the US is invested in three states: New York, California, and Massachusetts, but there are great entrepreneurs everywhere;
• For entrepreneurship to truly change the world, it needs to include everybody, yet less than 10% of venture funding is invested in companies with women co-founder, and less than 5% are invested in under-represented minorities.

The Rise of the Rest tour, which launched over a year ago and has now traveled to 15 cities, celebrates communities with great histories--and also great futures--while bringing together the people who dedicate their lives to helping startups.

We kicked off the fourth Rise of the Rest tour Monday morning with Steve Case and the presenting startups at Fort McHenry, most famous for being the site of the battle in the War of 1812 that inspired the "Star-Spangled Banner." Ranger Vince, fully aware of the historical context of the moment, told the gathered startups of Baltimore the state of America in 1812: the founders promoted a radical idea--democratic governance--and at the time of the War of 1812, it wasn't a sure thing that America was going to make it.

Washington had fallen to the British, and it seemed that Baltimore, the 3rd largest city in the U.S., might go next. The Star-Spangled banner was written when Francis Scott Key, who was on a boat in the Baltimore Harbor, couldn't truly see the American flag flying over the fort, but thought that after a night full of battle, he could potentially make out "the gleam of the first morning's beam." The flag still flying over the fort gave Francis Scott Key--and a startup country--hope that the country would make it.

Steve Case then reminded the gathered entrepreneurs that "250 years ago, America was a startup--and what will keep our country great is continuing to innovate and support promoters of new ideas." America has always relied on startups--the industrial revolution built great cities such as Pittsburgh; the automobile revolution created Detroit as the wealthiest city in the country, and while we now revere the excellence of Silicon Valley, the rest of the country has outstanding potential. And in Baltimore we saw an early gleam of what was to come:

Strong Sector Focus

While many startups try and re-create Silicon Valley, Baltimore has a strong sense of who the city can be. The infrastructure in Johns Hopkins University has created an outstanding ecosystem for health; an influx of education reformers have created an ed-tech ecosystem similar to what we have seen in New Orleans; and great organizations such as Startup Maryland and Betamore have sourced, trained, and curated the best startups we can find in Baltimore. In some cities we have visited, this tour has introduced ecosystem players to each other; in Baltimore, the level of collaboration already existing is encouraging.

"Startups have children and grandchildren"

"Startups have children and grandchildren," Steve Case always says, and often cites the examples of the startups that AOL and its extended ecosystem has created in Washington, DC. Baltimore has a major success, UnderArmour, occupying a spectacular old factory on the harbor and doing much more. We had a pitchfest of wearable technologies on the Under Armour docks, and Kevin Plank, UA's CEO, and team have purchased 300 acres of old industrial buildings to support future startups. We see cities thrive when people who have been successful invest in the next generation, and Baltimore provides hope.

Inclusive entrepreneurship

One conversation that was refreshingly front-of-mind: inclusive entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship runs the risk of expanding the gap between the successful and the left behind if we only support technology entrepreneurs from great schools who have access to resources; Baltimore's gap between rich and poor is one of the largest in the country, and recent headlines such as the Freddie Gray incident only highlight how far startups have to go to include everyone.

Fortunately, leaders such as the Impact Hub Baltimoreand Kapor Capital have made consistent investments in Baltimore to level the playing field, and we see more dedication and promise here than most areas to make sure entrepreneurship works for everyone.

Baltimore: "Gleam of the Morning"

Baltimore has a little bit to go to catch up with its Acela Corridor neighbors Boston, New York, and DC, but the enthusiasm, collaboration, and embrace of inclusion here gives promise. As we kick off the fourth Rise of the Rest tour, we're encouraged that the future of Baltimore--and the US--is bright.