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Free Wi-Fi, Inclusive Entrepreneurial Support Initiatives Announced for Baltimore’s Innovation Village

June 23, 2016

Throughout the United States, innovation districts have been proposed with varying degrees of emphasis on inclusivity and opportunity. In January 2016, a public-private partnership representing many of Baltimore’s most influential anchor institutions, community-based organizations, and private companies declared their intent to develop an innovation district in West Baltimore dubbed the “Innovation Village.”  This week, the Innovation Village steering committee announced several initiatives aimed at supporting inclusive economic growth in West Baltimore neighborhoods including free Wi-Fi, entrepreneurial assistance programs, and the development of a food hub.

The commitments made to support the Innovation Village are aimed at increasing economic inclusion in an area of the city mired by inequality, as noted in Technically.Baltimore. Among the most notable is the intent to set up free wireless Internet connectivity in the entire district. This would be led by a pilot project seeded with $50,000 from OneBaltimore, a nonprofit organization created by the city of Baltimore in spring 2015 to support ongoing efforts to rebuild communities and neighborhoods. The goal of this Wi-Fi network, according to The Baltimore Sun, is to make it easier for lower-income families to navigate a world where Internet access is becoming increasingly essential for activities such as school work or job applications. 

Small businesses and entrepreneurs would also receive additional support through the Innovation Village plans. Conscious Venture Lab, a publicly supported accelerator program that provides initial investments of $50,000 and business assistance to mission-oriented companies, announced its intention to relocate from Howard County to Baltimore, where it plans to use its venture fund to invest in 300 Baltimore-based companies over five years.

Furthermore, the Greater Baltimore Urban League recently opened the Raymond V. Haysbert, Sr. Center for Entrepreneurship to assist primarily black-owned small businesses with increasing revenue and growing jobs. Funded through a $300,000 U.S. Economic Development Administration grant, the center will conduct seminars, workshops, and one-on-one counseling, and offer a micro-business incubator. The center, which is also aided by a $150,000 grant from the Baltimore-based Abell Foundation, recently hired an executive director and will soon begin providing services, according to a post on the Urban League’s Facebook.

As highlighted in Technically.Baltimore, the Innovation Village coalition also announced their intent to establish a Food Hub for small businesses in the district, to be supported by OneMain Financial and led by the nonprofit group City Seeds, which is performing similar work on Baltimore’s East Side. Earlier this month, Cureate – a platform for working with and supporting food businesses – won $10,000 through the Innovation Village Pitch Competition. The competition came at the end of the first boot camp held by Innovation Village, OneBaltimore, and the Conscious Venture Lab. 

Marylandaccelerators, incubators, broadband