Maryland startups flock to entrepreneurial bus tour -- Gazette.Net


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As the founder of Frederick Web design and hosting company Easy WebContent, Payman Taei heard about Startup Maryland through — where else? — the Internet.

So he attended a meeting in Frederick last week organized as part of a 17-day statewide bus tour by the group, which promotes entrepreneurial businesses. And he was impressed enough to make his company the 10,000th to officially register with Startup America Partnership, the national organization with which Startup Maryland is affiliated.

“It became apparent that Startup America is a great platform to gain resources and connections to better promote and grow our startup,” Taei said. “We decided it would be a great opportunity to join and pitch our ideas. I truly believe our startup can help solve a few of the problems most business owners face — at least when it comes to their online presence.”

During the tour, some 160 companies — representing industries such as bioscience, cybersecurity and retail — pitched their ideas to panels of experts, said Michael P. Binko, co-chairman of Startup Maryland and president and CEO of Annapolis software business kloudtrack. Many of those boarded the group’s colorful yellow bus and made a video that will go on the website to be voted on, with top vote-getters winning the chance for greater exposure and prizes.

“It will likely take us a couple of weeks to get them posted online,” Binko said.

The meeting in Bethesda last week was quite helpful, said Debbie Kaufmann, a vice president with Gator Ron’s Zesty Sauces & Mixes. The fledgling business operates out of the Bethesda Green incubator, offering a line of all-natural, gluten-free Bloody Mary mix, wing sauce and barbecue sauce.

A panel that included Seth Goldman, CEO of Bethesda beverage company Honest Tea, lent Gator Ron’s some good advice, Kaufmann said.

“They want to hear more metrics like month-to-month sales increases,” she said. “We plan to incorporate that into our revised pitch for our next opportunity.”

Ron Griffith developed the sauces and passed the recipes to his wife, Connie, president of the business, before he died late last year at age 58 of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease. A portion of the sales goes to the Robert Packard Center for ALS Research at Johns Hopkins University, said Kaufmann, whose father-in-law also died of ALS.

The company sells the sauces online and at several area stores, such as Chevy Chase Supermarket, Bradley Food & Beverage in Bethesda and Snider’s Super Food in Silver Spring.

“We have sold most of our first batch of products in two months,” Kaufmann said.

Gator Ron’s and Easy WebContent were among those that made videos. An online fan favorite vote will run into early November, and then a panel will whittle down the field to eight finalists, who will make another pitch that will result in the top two. The group’s website is at startupmaryland.org.

Maryland has 439 members of Startup America, as of Thursday, ranking sixth nationally. The national group has asked the statewide affiliate to have a representative speak about the Pitch Across Maryland bus tour at a regional conference next week in Chicago, Binko said. The tour made stops across the state, including in Ocean City, Annapolis, Southern Maryland, Baltimore, Oxon Hill, Bethesda, Rockville, Frederick and Columbia.

Kevin Plank, founder and CEO of Baltimore sports apparel company Under Armour, is a member of the national group’s board, along with NBA Hall of Famer Magic Johnson, computer giant CEO Michael Dell and America Online cofounder Steve Case.

kshay@gazette.net