How Economic Gardening Cultivates Promising Startups
The Greater Baltimore region is frequently ranked as one of the best for entrepreneurship, recognized for both its startup growth and the survival rate of new businesses. A diverse startup scene and unique resources for entrepreneurs have been helping to shape the region’s economy for the past decade. One such resource is Advance Maryland (Advance)—a virtual business program that focuses on supporting second-stage growth companies by providing them with tools and information they can put to use immediately.
A partnership between the Economic Alliance of Greater Baltimore (EAGB) and the Maryland Department of Commerce, the Advance program launched in 2013 and has assisted 40 companies so far. It is supported by the Lowe Foundation Strategic Research team, using national “economic gardening” resources. The program has been so successful that EAGB has been asked to help other markets establish similar programs.
In contrast to traditional business assistance, which focuses on finances, business plans and operational issues, economic acceleration—also known as economic gardening—addresses strategic growth challenges, from developing new markets and refining business models, to gaining access to competitive intelligence. To do this, teams of highly skilled research specialists mine sophisticated databases and leverage high-end tools related to search engine optimization, social media marketing and geographic information systems (GIS).
An entrepreneur working with Advance defines their goals and Advance provides them with strategic information specifically tailored to their needs. Success could be measured by a new product launch, new market entry, revenue or FTE growth, or defining an overall change in strategy or business model. In each case, the business owner leads the efforts and Advance provides the tools.
Advance Maryland is offered as a 4-6 week program and provides a panel of experts who assist on strategic issues in five key areas: core strategy, market dynamics, qualified sales leads, innovation, and temperament. The program is open to second-stage companies that are for-profit, privately held and headquartered in Maryland. Applicants must have annual revenues or working capital between $1MM and $50MM and between 10 and 99 full-time employees. Advance is open to companies in any industry. Applicants are considered on a rolling basis and can apply at any time throughout the year.
Maryland companies like Parking Panda, Harbor Designs & Manufacturing, Potomac Photonics, and Unleashed Technologies have worked with Advance, and some have found it so valuable, they’ve joined the program for a second time.
“The Advance Maryland program continues to provide value to [us] year after year,” says a rep for Unleashed Technologies. "It focuses on providing valuable information and resources that are otherwise out of reach for small businesses, and that has made all the difference to us. "
In the past, most regional job creation came from business relocations. Today, the majority of new jobs come from either new business openings or business expansions. That makes access to programs like Advance Maryland, which provide business owners with the framework and support need for growth, all the more crucial.
“The Advance Maryland program made a huge contribution to helping us define and implement a strategy that has resulted in increasing hiring and revenue growth,” says a rep for Potomac Photonics. “We are grateful for the support and guidance that we received in market intelligence, competitive landscape and overall direction of our business.”