The Howard Tech Council: Connecting Businesses, Inspiring Entrepreneurs
Jeani Burns can register, categorize and stay in touch with 6,000 volunteers in a single day — and she’s still cheerful when she hits the hay that evening.
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She’s been doing just that for Richmond 2015, a nine-day Union Cycliste Internationale Road World Championships event that will be held in Virginia’s capital city this fall. Given this is only the second time the event has been held outside of Europe, it’s a high profile gig that will give Burns’ company, VoMaSmart, a chance to shine.
Burns and her co-founder, Mike Koenig, make it look easy, but it’s not. They have developed and coded a cutting edge, online volunteer management system that allows volunteers to choose their roles, sign up with their friends and share their experience on social media.
VoMaSmart has local clients as well, including Wine in the Woods and the National Family Resiliency Center, and Burns said she continues to reach out to build the company’s markets. Headquartered in Savage Mill, VoMaSmart got its start when the Howard Tech Council (HTC) steered the fledgling business into residency with the Maryland Center for Entrepreneurship (MCE), where it remained for six months.
Burns is no stranger to launching businesses — VoMaSmart is her third — but she’d never hatched a software company and knew she’d need some advice. At the MCE, she received mentoring, along with the company of fellow businesspeople, in an environment that offered constant motivation and feedback.
Burns’s co-founder, Koenig, serves as the company’s chief developer, handling the technical side of the business, with the help of two junior developers. “I have a technical background, and Jeani has the marketing and business,” he said.
When Koenig first heard Burns talk about the idea, he thought, “Surely, someone has done this before” — but no one had. And VoMaSmart was born.
VoMaSmart is just one example among the many companies that have grown strong in the MCE, said HTC Director Tracy Turner.
“An important objective of business incubators is creating employment opportunities in the local economy and commercializing technologies,” she said. “The companies at the MCE provide an opening into a highly competitive and largely impenetrable job market. They employ handfuls of young, qualified individuals in a range of industries, as well as offer a varied, intensive and in-depth experience for interns, who fare better than finding a photocopying or filing job in a big company.”
Incubators are generally considered to be an essential foundation for any economic development program, said Turner.
In addition to the MCE, the tech council is constantly looking for ways to boost local entrepreneurial minds, she said. “Additional programs and services have been designed within the HTC to support connecting the ecosystem, including networking events, a speaker series, training and workshops, access to state and national investor programs, and other free business resources.”
Turner has been bringing new resources to the table at the council this summer. Beth Woodring, fund manager for the Howard County Economic Development Authority, has been speaking at tech council events and moderated a speaker series as well.
“The vast majority of small business owners are truly sincere in ‘paying it forward’ and helping out another small business firm,” she said. “It is a collaboration that has so many positive impacts for the local business climate and which helps build the business environment.”
Woodring not only provides guidance, but she learns about programs, resources and connections that help her grow professionally.
“While this is true of most business networking events, with the tech council, there is the added spark of innovation,” she said. “I remain amazed at the number of new products, services, apps and more that are being developed by the tech council members.”
The collaboration of tech people with non-tech partners — like Koenig and Burns — often occurs within the HTC, Woodring said. “Non-technologists come into play — mentors, incubators, business development staff — who can often close the gap on the business hurdles. For the tech owner, the technology is their comfort zone, and the business piece is often daunting.”
A few weeks ago, Ami Gadhia, portfolio director for Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures, attended a Howard Tech Council event — Women In Networking — for the first time.
“I wanted to make contacts both professionally and personally,” said Gadhia. “I met a potential customer I had worked with a number of years ago,” she said. “We connected, and we are having continued discussion about another technology in our portfolio.”
Gadhia also made personal contacts. “I met a number of other women from my local community,” she said.
Azi Rosenblum, founder and CEO of RemSource Inc., also attended the Women In Networking event. “This one was actually inviting men to attend, and I figured I’d break the gender barrier,” he said. “I think the Howard Tech Council offers new and interesting networking events.”
- See more at: http://www.bizmonthly.com/the-howard-tech-council-connectiong-businesses-inspiring-entrepreneurs/
Howard County company profile: VoMaSmart
Author: Amanda Winters @ MDBIZNews
When Jeani Burns, co-founder of VoMaSmart, got in touch with the Howard Tech Council she knew the company was on its way. “I wanted it so bad I could taste it,” she recalls. Soon after making the right connections, Jeani jumped in head first and moved into the Maryland Center for Entrepreneurship for six months.
“They are model residents at the Maryland Center for Entrepreneurship and a great example of what can happen when you marry a sound business idea with good coaching, hard work and perseverance,” said Lawrence F. Twele, CEO Howard County Economic Development Authority.
Jeani sat down with MDBizNews to answer some questions about VoMaSmart and working with the Howard County incubator.
Q: What is VoMaSmart?
A: VoMaSmart is a cutting edge, online Volunteer Management system that engages the volunteers in social interactions while saving Volunteer Managers 65% to 95% of their time – allowing the event coordinators to spend their time marketing rather than managing.
Q: Who are a few of the clients you work with?
A: We launched three years ago with Wine in the Woods, and since then we’ve been able to decrease the festival’s no-show volunteers by 30%. Last year, the event staff saved more than 288 hours of work by using our program!
This year we decided to go national. We recently teamed up with Richmond2015, the Union Cycliste Internationale Road World Championships, held in Virginia this fall. This is only the second time the nine-day event has been held outside of Europe. We couldn’t ask for a better opportunity to showcase the work we’ve done to build this program.
Q: Tell us more about the Road World Championships. How will VoMaSmart benefit the event?
A: This event is nearly two weeks long with over 4,600 volunteers from around the world. It’s a fantastic solution for anyone who needs to manage large numbers of volunteers. Richmond was previously using a program where volunteers couldn’t be sorted. They needed to find women of a certain age who spoke specific languages. With VoMaSmart, you can sort by anything—languages, provinces, anything you need. Reducing the resources required to manage volunteers helps save time and money.
Q: What types of organizations can use your volunteer program?
A: We target sporting events, festivals, non-profits, and fundraisers. There are thousands of events across the United States. Sporting events, like triathlons and other endurance series, are some of the largest and wealthiest groups. But my passion is helping charities – we help those who can’t afford the program and are sponsored by larger corporations.
Q: What makes VoMaSmart unique compared to other volunteer management programs?
A: Besides our instant reporting features, our program supports the volunteers who make it possible. We provide a forum for volunteers to communicate with each other. Today, Richmond2015 has over 4,600 registered users who are talking about events, looking for places to stay, sharing their favorite photos or stories, and more.
We also hosts contests for our users. The volunteers competing in contests promote their entries with their social networks, which drives traffic back to the volunteer portal. In return, the winners receive prizes from the event or event sponsors.
Q: What’s your advice for other startups in the area?
A: Meet with the Howard Tech Council immediately and get in the [Maryland Center for Entrepreneurship] program. Don’t just be a resident—consider moving in. Work with the mentors they assign you. Be your own powerhouse and make sure you ask for what you need, because there are 30 other companies there. I love that I was able to collaborate with them. It’s fabulous the stories you hear and the friends you make.
Howard County MD Company to Play Major Role in 2015 Union Cycliste Internationale Road World Championships
VoMaSmart Delivers Unique Online Volunteer Management Program
Columbia, MD (June 4, 2015) —The Howard County Economic Development Authority is proud to announce that VoMaSmart, a Maryland Center for Entrepreneurship resident company, has been awarded a contract for The 2015 Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) Road World Championships in Richmond, Virginia this fall.
VoMaSmart’s online volunteer management program will be used during one of cycling’s pinnacle events to organize over 3,000 volunteers from around the world. With the program, volunteers are able to manage themselves, choose their own assignments, communicate through the forum interface, and access their instructions via smart phones.
“As the organizers of the 2015 UCI Road World Cycling Championships, it is imperative that we have a world class volunteer management system that will provide the features and capabilities needed to support the thousands of volunteers who will help to make our event the best the World has ever seen,” said Monica Callahan, Community Engagement Director of Richmond 2015. “VoMaSmart’s ability to customize the volunteer management system to fit our needs and to meet the requirements of this international event is invaluable.”
The Worlds is a nine-day event, featuring 12 Championship races for Elite Men and Women, and Junior Men and Women. It is a rare opportunity for the athletes to compete for their country just as they do during the Olympic Games. Athletes compete in three different disciplines including the traditional Road Race, the Individual Time Trial and the recently introduced Team Time Trial. World Champions are crowned in each discipline. The Worlds is covered by more than 500 media outlets from around the world and is broadcast live to a global audience of more than 300 million people.
“We couldn’t ask for a better opportunity to showcase the work we’ve done to build this program, said Jeani Burns, Co-founder of VoMaSmart. “Our product really is a fantastic solution for anyone who needs to manage large numbers of volunteers. By reducing the level of resources required to coordinate volunteers we help event organizers achieve substantial cost and time savings.”
The user friendly program developed by Burns and co-founder Mike Koenig saves organizations 65 to 95% of their management time and has been roundly praised by volunteers. It not only provides dynamic, custom reporting for events staff, but includes volunteer contest features that increase signups, show-ups and retention while driving activity on social networks.
VoMaSmart provides 24/7 online support for registering volunteers and 24/7 email and phone support for administrators.
“We are really proud of Jeani and Mike and the VoMaSmart team,” said Lawrence F. Twele, CEO Howard County Economic Development Authority. “They are model residents at the Maryland Center for Entrepreneurship and a great example of what can happen when you marry a sound business idea with good coaching, hard work and perseverance.”
Other users of the VoMaSmart program include the Wine in the Woods Festival in Columbia, Maryland which attracts more than 25,000 visitors annually, the Washington West Film Festival, a five day event in Reston, VA and Washington D.C., and the Fuel Fund of Maryland in Baltimore, Maryland.
About HCEDA: The Howard County Economic Development Authority is a public-private partnership whose primary goal is to promote economic growth and stability by supporting existing businesses, targeting new businesses, and attracting corporate/regional headquarters. The Authority also maintains several programs aimed at the special needs of small and agricultural businesses. Additionally, the Authority strives to preserve the distinctive quality of life in Howard County. The Authority can be reached at www.hceda.org.