Summing the Parts of the Maryland Ecosystem
Stephen Auvil

The last time I attended a symphony, I recall listening to the musicians warm up and tune their instruments just prior to the start of the concert – the crisp notes from the violins, the soft tones from the oboes, and the heavy percussion from the drums. Honestly, what I was hearing was more noise than what I would call music. I certainly recognized that each performer was uniquely talented and independently could produce beautiful music but listening to the collective group play in an uncoordinated fashion did not produce something pleasing to the ear. That said, I did not abandon my seat and leave the concert. I knew that the musicians would soon play together as a coordinated orchestra and generate a quality of sound more magnificent than any of the individual musicians could achieve by playing alone.   

This should not surprise anyone. Gestalt theory teaches us that a whole system taken together can have a greater value than the sum of values from its individual components. In my current role at TEDCO, I interact with various organizations supporting Maryland’s entrepreneurial ecosystem – the collective organizations and resources supporting entrepreneurs and early-stage companies in our state.  Like the individual musicians, each of these organizations and resources independently provides unique value to the ecosystem through advising, business incubation, funding, etc. That said, when I look at our ecosystem with a Gestalt perspective, I see an opportunity for much greater coordination – the opportunity to create a symphony of support. 

This is not just my perspective. In 2017, the State launched an initiative, Excel Maryland, to take advantage of the State’s strengths in cybersecurity and life sciences to advance its national leadership in these areas. The effort was to accelerate innovation-driven commercial activity. Two consultants were hired to examine Maryland’s ecosystem. The consultants were from Massachusetts, a state that has been very successful developing its life sciences economy. They found that Maryland had a wealth of resources; however, better connectivity between the various [resources] was needed to strengthen the State’s leadership. The challenge is finding a way to improve coordination of the various resources that we have available and elevate Maryland’s ecosystem as a whole.

Meeting this challenge will require individual stakeholders to look beyond themselves. To look beyond their individual or organizational metrics. To look beyond the personal credit that might be achieved through individual success. To take a Gestalt perspective and look at their role in the larger ecosystem and to appreciate the greater value and greater efficiency associated with collaborating with others in the ecosystem to raise the overall quality of support in our state.

At TEDCO, we are buying into this philosophy and leveraging Collaboration, one of our core values. To this end, we are currently supporting an effort by the Maryland Business Innovation Association (MBIA) to explore how Maryland’s various incubator and accelerator programs could be better coordinated and what value that could bring to the State. For example, this effort could help to standardize and collect metrics that will enable us to tell better stories of success, to attract investment to the State by creating a critical mass of funding opportunities available from all incubators across the State, and to better share resources so a company at one incubator can more easily access resources at another.

TEDCO is also part of an initiative called the Urban Business Innovation Initiative (UBII) focused on Baltimore City and Prince George’s County to support entrepreneurs in traditionally underserved communities. A group of 23 partners (thus far) are working together on this initiative. The UpSurge Baltimore effort is bringing together hundreds of ecosystem stakeholders to make Baltimore the country’s first Equitech city. The Small Business Administration (SBA) just closed its Community Navigator funding opportunity that required applicants to propose a hub and spoke model that involved the coordination of several partners within an ecosystem. These represent a few examples of efforts to “knit-together” parts of our ecosystem. We need more.

It is time for leaders in Maryland’s entrepreneurial ecosystem to put the greater good of the ecosystem’s success, beyond their own individual interests. They need to find new ways to collaborate with more stakeholders. As more individuals take on leadership roles and recognize the benefit of being proactive with uniting the ecosystem, Maryland can position itself to lead the country in innovation and technology-based economic development. The instruments are tuned, the warm-up is over, and it is time to make music.

Stephen Auvil is the Chief Program Operations Officer at TEDCO

Source: Leadership Maryland