A new model for an accelerator — and a thriving tech city: Baltimore’s vision for Equitech

Jul 27, 2021

By Jamie McDonald, CEO at UpSurge Baltimore and Monica Wheat, Managing Director of Techstars Equitech Accelerator

When Isaac Kinde celebrated the eye-popping sale of the company he cofounded for $2.15 billion last year, it was another milestone on a journey that started with a childhood interest in science, math and computers. Originally from California, Isaac was drawn to Baltimore by UMBC's Meyerhoff Scholars Program, which aims to increase diversity in science, engineering and related fields. His talent led him to study medicine at Johns Hopkins University, and eventually into the lab of renowned cancer researcher Bert Vogelstein, where Isaac developed a screening test that uses a single blood draw to reveal multiple types of cancers in their early stages. His innovation, which has the potential to upend traditional cancer diagnostics, sits at the core of Thrive Earlier Detection, the company he cofounded.

Isaac’s story is a powerful example of Equitech, a groundbreaking vision for a different kind of tech economy that’s built on a belief that game-changing entrepreneurs are everywhere, across communities and cultures. The vision is also grounded in a commitment to build a thriving innovation city without the dislocation and gentrification that has occurred in so many of the country’s brain hubs. It’s the defining  framework for UpSurge Baltimore, the partner of the Techstars Equitech Accelerator, anchoring our work in a belief that diverse teams, leaders and perspectives are force multipliers in the growth of tech companies.

Teaming up with Techstars to accelerate the Equitech vision

Earlier this year, UpSurge Baltimore teamed up with Techstars to launch the world’s first Equitech accelerator. The accelerator is seeking transformational Equitech startups that include:

  • Companies with founders from any background whose culture and values are grounded in the advantages of diverse teams, leadership and perspectives.

  • Companies led by underestimated founders, including founders of color, women, LGBTQ+ and differently abled.

  • Companies with founders from any background in any industry whose technology broadens access and increases equity in society.

Companies selected for this accelerator will be breaking new ground, with both their company innovations and with the role they will play as pioneers building a new kind of startup ecosystem, one where ingenuity and diversity are an advantage, not just a DEI obligation. The class will be embraced by a city uniquely committed to their success, surrounding them with expertise, partners, mentors and relationships with other founders, as well as corporate, academic and civic leaders.

The leaders of this accelerator program, Monica Wheat and Ramzy Ismail, in partnership with the UpSurge team and board, bring distinctive expertise, insight, experience and dedication to the Techstars Equitech Accelerator participants.

Building the Country’s First Equitech City

UpSurge launched in early 2021 to build a new kind of startup city one that learns from the ingenuity of other U.S. tech hubs, while avoiding the unintended consequences of dislocation, gentrification and increasing wealth divides that accompanied economic growth.

Baltimore boasts world-class institutions, such as Johns Hopkins, the University of Maryland, Morgan State and Kinde’s alma mater, UMBC. Our state leads the nation in federal R&D spending. We offer unparalleled proximity to public and private anchor institutions, from the NIH and CIA to Amazon, Lockheed Martin, Stanley Black & Decker, T. Rowe Price and Under Armour. We have unparalleled concentrations of workers in multiple tech-related fields, and we’ve launched clusters of game-changing startups in life sciences, digital health, cybersecurity, FinTech, AdTech, and ClimateTech. And it’s a beautiful, historic, livable and affordable city.

What makes UpSurge’s Equitech focus distinct from the approach other cities have taken is our commitment to create new pathways into the knowledge economy for the often underestimated, brilliant Baltimoreans who have been left out, and our dedication to advancing authentic inclusivity in leadership, hiring and culture. 

In time, not only will entrepreneurs and investors around the world look at Baltimore as a launching pad for transformational companies, but more Baltimoreans will see the knowledge economy as a pathway for their own upwardly mobile futures.

When we accomplish this in Baltimore, it will be a model for the world.

Diversity as a Force Multiplier

The concept of Equitech made sense to us, both as a business model and from our own experiences in the knowledge economy, globally and locally. We’ve seen the advantages that diverse teams, inclusive cultures and barrier-breaking ideas bring to companies startups especially.

And, we know that across the country, people and businesses are increasingly recognizing diversity as an empirical economic advantage. Harvard Business Review shared findings demonstrating that companies with more diverse teams and leadership were more likely to introduce new products or inventions. And Morgan Stanley’s research in The Trillion Dollar Blind Spot, suggests that “Multicultural and women-owned businesses could account for $6.8 trillion if they matched their percentage of the labor force and business revenues were equal to traditional firms.”

Who should apply

We are looking for big ideas and focused innovators. We can develop potential, we look for it exclusively in those who have been previously overlooked. We are looking for for-profit companies ready to grow in any industry vertical. We are looking for tech, non-tech and tech-enabled ideas as long as the business model is high scale and high growth in nature. We are looking for those who are ready to learn, work hard, and win big.

Our combined global and local networks, proven methodology and global vision are looking to accelerate these founders in Baltimore and to develop an ecosystem ready-made for them. If you are a diverse founder or if you believe that diversity is a force multiplier that helps drive the leadership of your company or the products you create we invite you to apply by July 28, 2021 to join the inaugural Techstars Equitech Accelerator class.

About the Authors
Jamie McDonald

Jamie McDonald is CEO of UpSurge Baltimore. She is an experienced finance executive, entrepreneur, movement builder, and speaker. Prior to joining UpSurge, she was an advisor to entrepreneurs, social innovators, and impact-focused executives. She’s been deeply involved in work on behalf of Baltimore throughout her career.

Monica Wheat

Monica Wheat is a 20-year veteran of startup, corporate, and tech organizations and is the Managing Director of the Techstars Equitech Accelerator. She is the cofounder and executive director of Venture Catalysts, an ecosystem development group. Previously, Monica helped build global accelerator programs as MD with Backstage Capital, an underestimated founder focused-venture fund, and venture programs globally in partnership with Google, Microsoft, Ford, GM, and Quicken Loans.