How the Power of Entrepreneurial Relationships Is Rebuilding Baltimore
Quick math problem: what's 50 + 2 + 1? In this case, it’s Breakout: 50 people, two co-founders and one city: Baltimore. What's Breakout and what's my point? Follow along.
I had the opportunity recently to re-visit my hometown of Baltimore, but rather than for an occasion of family or friends, this time with a group of 50 change-oriented young people from all over the US, convened through a program called Breakout.
Co-founder Graham Cohen explains, "These gatherings are bigger than our membership; we come together to learn about the cities, the social issues they face, and the people trying to create change. We enjoy a great weekend with like-minded people, but more importantly, we learn about how we can engage and help the people making an impact on those in their community."
And that’s what they’re doing. You spend a whirlwind 48 hours with dozens of your peers who don't lead with ego, but with interest in general connection-making, who all happen to have an orientation towards change. To combine exposure and education with friendships and fun is precisely the winning formula that continues to makes Breakout special and why it's a success.
But why Baltimore? Co-founder Michael Farber explains, “Both Graham and I are Maryland born-and-raised. We are so proud to be from Maryland and were excited to showcase Baltimore's thriving art scene, emerging eco-system for entrepreneurs, the inspirational grassroots leaders, and the general revitalization that is taking place. We also wanted our community to see and understand that the unrest that happened in April isn't unique to Baltimore. Conversations on race and class-divide that are now happening through the healing process there need to be a part of every city's ongoing dialogue."
I wanted to be a part of this experience to actively re-examine my relationship with this city. Through the course of the 48-hour program-intensive trip, I began to see both the city and the organization through the lens of the power of relationships.
Here are six examples of how relationships are helping Baltimore and what you can learn from them:
1. Relationships find jobs for the formerly incarcerated.
"I'm here because so many people put their faith in me, even when I didn't have faith in myself,” shares Chris Wilson, founder of Barclay Investment Corp.
Chris is referring to being out of jail after a murder sentence, followed by years of personal development and hard work. He's only been free for three years and in that time, began his company which employs formerly incarcerated men in need of fair and steady work. He also mentors local kids in the rough neighborhood where he grew up. He's utilizing his power through those relationships to be a good role model. He specifically spoke to the power of networking and says he relies on his network to hold him accountable as he works to improve the lives of people in these Baltimore neighborhoods who are often neglected.
There is nothing flimsy about the power of relationships. They got this man out of jail and back into society to help his community.
2. Relationships create hands-on education and job training.
Your relationships give you a seat at the table to listen and ask good questions, and then you have the opportunity to use that information to help make an impact. This is demonstrated by James Bond (not the movie character) who is a life-long contributor to Baltimore’s improvement. He’s CEO and president of Living Classrooms Foundation, which promotes learning by doing.
“Living Classrooms Foundation strengthens communities and inspires young people to achieve their potential through hands-on education and job training, using urban, natural, and maritime resources as living classrooms”, he shares.
They have real relationships within the communities where they serve. They listen to what a community wants and needs before creating programming to help.
3. Relationships take kids out of the "poverty of isolation."
Relationships require patience and intentional cultivation to bear fruit. A bright example of this is Sarah Hemminger, founder of Thread, which works to solve the "poverty of isolation" by “engaging underperforming high school students confronting significant barriers outside of the classroom by providing each one with a family of committed volunteers and increased access to community resources. We foster students’ academic advancement and personal growth into self-motivated, resilient, and responsible citizens.”
She explains that she and her team will often invest in the lives of kids in the communities they serve for six to twelve months without sharing about their program with them. They want to initially create real relationships based on trust and are constantly developing their relationship-building skills to drive their programmatic success.
4. Relationships encourage the next generation of innovators.
Betamore is a local award-winning incubator and co-working space focused on early-stage tech companies. They're helping Baltimore reach its potential as “a leading global entrepreneurship destination that aligns businesses, government, not-for-profits, and centers of education with entrepreneurs who drive creative commercialization.”
Betamore co-founder Greg Cangiolosi explains that much of their success is thanks to the power of relationships and cooperation. Among a list of partnerships that drive their development is Johns Hopkins University, a feeder into the startup community. These partners get visibility and interaction with their community of innovators, who in turn can utilize what the partners have to offer by way of resources and opportunities.
5. Relationships revitalize a community.
You can create a successful business by listening to the desires and needs of your target market and allow them to connect-the-dots for you to others in their circles.Thibault Manekin, co-founder of Seawall Development, shared about their success in doing so while developing Millers Court, a residential and office building, to create a community for educators, human service and health professionals.
They picked a historic tin can factory in an area of Baltimore called Remington. People initially called them crazy for going there. They leveraged their relationships to get buy-in from the community, as well as their target residents. Over time, this helped to make the entire neighborhood highly desirable. Thibault emphasized the importance of starting off with the relationships he and his team already had, then continuing to build on those within the neighborhood. He asked the community what they wanted to see in the development and what they thought was a fair rental price. This developed into a successful model of a thriving complex with a waiting list of hundreds.
6. Relationships are creating a platform for young local artists.
"Unless you're of a community or from it, you'll never really understand it," explains local teen, Cad “Creative C” Harvey, founder of Generation of Dreamers, an ecommerce site “committed to cultivating independent culture using fashion as an outlet.” She talked about using her knowledge of her community of young black people in Baltimore, coupled with her desire to use her skills, to create a platform for young black Baltimoreans to showcase their art.