- Maryland-based Conscious Venture Lab, an early stage business accelerator, is offering support to seven startups for the next four months, according to Baltimore Business Journal. The chosen businesses aim to improve residents' lives through smart cities principles including open systems and internet-connected devices.
- This is the lab's first cohort since recently moving from its space in Columbia, MD to Baltimore.
- The accelerator is part of a larger effort to revitalize a section of Baltimore that has become known more for its violence and crime than for its history as an entertainment center filled with African American history and culture.
Conscious Venture Lab launched four years ago as an accelerator for purpose-driven startups, and its 17-week program that begins next week will be the first in its new Baltimore location. The cohort session keeps with the theme "Urban Resilience and Smart Cities." The lab specifically searched for businesses focused on how data and technology can improve how cities deliver services, and on how to solve some of Baltimore's chronic problems, such as high unemployment and food and water shortages. One startup included in the upcoming program is a Baltimore-based water and energy firm, and another is an app that makes it easier for users to join advocacy groups and contact their lawmakers.
Baltimore is a city with strong neighborhood identities, and the identities of neighborhoods in West Baltimore are deeply rooted in African American culture. Past locals Billie Holliday and Cab Calloway were among the key players in boosting the area's reputation as a vibrant entertainment hub. In recent years, however, West Baltimore has become synonymous with blight, crime and violence, due in part to its depiction on the TV series "The Wire" and because of the 2015 riots following the death of Freddie Gray in police custody.
The city has experienced a number of revitalization efforts over several decades, including the fledgling "Innovation Village" development district, where Conscious Venture Lab is now located. Many public and private partners banded together to rebuild the seven-square mile area and create jobs. The area was chosen not only to revitalize a once thriving section of the city, but also partially because it's near public transit and would attract workers who do not have cars. Although critics have long pointed out inadequacies in Baltimore's transit system — especially in West Baltimore — the system is in the midst of an overhaul, and increased demand from new developments could prompt further improvements. Innovation Village is hosting a Smart Cities Summit next week during Baltimore Innovation Week, and Conscious Venture Lab's seven-startup cohort will officially launch at the end of the day-long summit.