What MICA’s UP/Start Teaches us About Young Entrepreneurs in MD

Pava LaPere
Apr 23, 2019 · 5 min read

The art and design school’s pitch competition highlighted the traits of the next generation of Baltimore entrepreneurs.

The 2019 MICA UP/Start Winners

The Maryland Institute College of Art’s UP/Start competition recognizes 8 student and alumni-run ventures each year, as they compete for funding for their startups, small businesses, and nonprofits. This year, the problems tackled by UP/Start entrepreneurs include plastic pollution, sexual violence in relationships, under-representation in printed media, and the future of low-wage work.

The 2019 UP/Start Competition was a great display of the traits of young entrepreneurs in Baltimore. Taking a closer look at their ventures reveals that these entrepreneurs not only deeply understand their target markets, but also that they know how to embrace design and media to connect with their customers on a deeper level.

Here is what we learned from the ventures at MICA’s 2019 UP/Start Competition:

They are passionate about scalable societal change

Many of the problems tackled by this cohort have deeply embedded social and economic roots, such as our disposable consumer culture. The UP/Start entrepreneurs understand that in order to tackle problems with persistent causes, you need a sustainable business model to create change.

The GPG Technologies team, creators of the Saqua bottle

One of the first place $35,000 winners, Greatest Possible Good, shows us what this means: Reusable bottles can be hard to clean and easily break or dent, prompting many to choose wasteful disposable ones. That’s why founders Kyle Vaughan and Kenneth Wayman decided to redefine the bottle, by making it out of silicone.

With the Saqua bottle, you can flip it inside out, throw it in the dishwasher, or smash it in your purse. This one piece of silicone — widely regarded as more environmentally friendly than plastic — can replace the 167 plastic water bottles that the average American goes through each year.

They understand that consumer behavior can only be changed if new products go above and beyond basic expectations. Water bottles that are good for the earth and solve the shortcomings of reusable bottles do just that.

They know how to reach new audiences

We live in a digital world. This generation has grown up with their attention glued to digital devices, a relationship that’s unlikely to end soon. But while it’s easy to lament the damaging aspects of excessive device use, they have a key benefit: the ability to connect with strangers over shared experiences.

Erose is an online platform that helps people navigate world of modern romance and dating, where anybody can share their experiences for the sake of expression, giving advice, or helping others avoid tough situations. Seeing that the number of sexual assaults due to online dating has risen 450% in just five years, such a service is more important than ever before.

A look at the Erose online platform

Erose brings important messages about sexual assault and healthy relationships directly to the people that need them — with none of the stigma or inconvenience historically associated with reaching out. Founder Rheagen King knows that in order to connect with people on such sensitive topics, they need to feel safe and welcome on the platforms they engage with.

Young entrepreneurs know how to leverage online tools, social media, and virility to spread their message to even the hardest-to-reach consumers. It can be hard to accept that our world is consumed by digital, especially with the prevalence of harmful content online. But entrepreneurs are instead using the phenomena to create positive change that can reach a truly massive audience.

They understand the importance of storytelling

We know that the nature of work is changing: automation driven by AI is rapidly replacing human workers, and new jobs requiring new skillsets is cropping up left and right. Yet it’s hard to understand what it’s really like to have your life’s work fundamentally changed, or disappear entirely, at the hands of code.

That’s why Amazing Industries is using multimedia to raise awareness of the future of work in the digital age. By demystifying what gig work is now, and what it might look like in the near future, founder Brett Wallace believes that we can have better discussions to address the inevitable social impacts of job automation.

Example of an Amazing Industries display, highlighting the impact of Amazon on modern work

Though we still don’t know exactly how automation will shape the future of work, it’s widely accepted that AI-driven shifts will disparately impact low-income workers. Amazing Industry aims to share their stories through a series of art installations, video series, printed publications, and workshops.

They Embrace the Diversity of Entrepreneurship

Entrepreneurs are not just tech bros in hoodies building the next Uber for Labradoodles. They work in a wide variety of industries, from art to tech to medicine, and through a variety of venture types, including startups, small businesses, nonprofits, and sole proprietorships.

The Greenmount Tile team showcases their handmade installations

The ventures at UP/Start 2019 showcased the diversity of entrepreneurship in Baltimore. The competition featured products ranging from virtual reality immersion and collaborative web software to traditional manufacturing and hand-designed products.

All of the ventures showed how art and technology can be melded together to create novel (and beautiful) solutions to problems. Here’s a look at the other 5 ventures presenting at Up/Start 2019:

  1. Paint.Team — a web software that allows people to collaborate on a digitally painted work simultaneously
  2. Lucky Pocket Press — an artist collective that makes unconventional handmade merchandise
  3. Hilarious Comics — a comic book series that seeks to highlight underrepresented characters
  4. Greenmount Tile — a ceramics company that designs custom edition art installations
  5. Virtual Scout — a virtual reality company that creates immersive natural environments to be deployed in therapeutic settings

The MICA UP/Start Competition is a product of MICApreneurship, MICA’s innovation hub dedicated to supporting student and alumni entrepreneurs. The center is led by Stephanie Chin, the Assistant Director for Entrepreneurship at MICA. If you have any questions, you can contact the center at ​micapreneurship@mica.edu.

Check out more coverage of 2019 UP/Start on Technical.ly Baltimore


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