When entrepreneurs roll out a startup venture, renting office space on a shoestring budget, being aware of options to access legal counsel, and even having time to network can leave a business owner or nonprofit founder scrambling.

Two former law school classmates stepped up by creating an idea to help local business owners make strides to grow by providing office space and resources. Jennifer Curry, managing shareholder of Baker Donelson’s Baltimore law office, had a conversation with Alicia Wilson, Vice President for Economic Development at the Johns Hopkins University and Johns Hopkins Health System.

“Because of the pandemic and our flexible remote work schedule, we had a lot of attorneys who were no longer coming in to work regularly, and that left a lot of empty offices. We consolidated our offices to bring those who were coming to work in-person closer, but that left an entire floor empty. We didn’t want to just sub-let that floor out to another business or firm, so we decided to do something more thoughtful and useful with it. One of our attorneys came up with the idea of opening the space up to small businesses, and that started the ball rolling,” Curry said. “We decided to go even bigger and find a way to donate the entire floor to small businesses, rent-free.”

When the idea was in development, Curry and Wilson talked by phone. They ultimately partnered to create The Light of Baltimore Incubator at Baker Donelson.

Maya Gilmore, executive producer, The PKWY Agency and incubator participant Photo credit: Michael Ciesielski

“That call happened in June, and by September we had businesses moving in to form The Light of Baltimore Incubator at Baker Donelson,” Curry said.

The duo utilized the programs that Johns Hopkins University had started with Goldman Sachs and Bloomberg Philanthropies to complete the task. Curry further explained that John Hopkins’ team identified members of their current small business cohort and past cohort members, to find a mix of businesses that would complement each other.

A total of 30 businesses are currently participating in the incubator. Baker Donelson donated the entire 23rd floor of its Baltimore office that is located at 100 Light Street.

“The retail value of the floor is $300,000. The group that is in the incubator right now will have their offices for at least the next year,” Curry said.

Additionally, Baker Donelson is offering legal help and mentorship. Incubator members will have an opportunity to partner with the law firm’s BakerBridge program. It offers grants to small businesses in the form of free and discounted legal services.

Chanel White, program and events manager, Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Program explained that she selected the businesses for the first incubator cohort. She also addressed their logistical needs. White said that participants who utilize the space at Baker Donelson include business owners from the construction; beauty and hair; legal; event planning; adoption consulting; IT; real estate; consulting services; video and film production; and nonprofit industries.

“This space allows businesses an opportunity to work around their peers while gaining knowledge and sharing their business expertise with each other in an effort not only to sustain and grow their business, but to provide a resource to and within the community,” White said.

Felicia Daniel, owner of Beck & Call Professional Services, provides commercial janitorial services and facility service management. She is participating in The Light of Baltimore Incubator at Baker Donelson.

“This space will allow us to hold staff meetings, meet face-to-face with current and potential clients and provide a real business address at one of Baltimore’s most prime real estate and locations. Lastly, the office will bring our leadership team together in one space allowing us to be better prepared to scale our business by increasing essential staff, service expansion and new channel development,” Daniel said.

Maya Gilmore and her business partner, Charneice Fox are two additional incubator participants who are utilizing the rent-free office space. Their business, The PKWY Agency, offers development and visual marketing. Their portfolio ranges from corporate commercials, documentaries, narrative feature films and music videos, casting services and more. The PKWY Foundation is their new 501(c)(3). It offers visual arts education to young people, teaching them the art of TV/Film and Media production.

Gilmore mentioned that having office space helped her and Fox to establish a stronger business profile.

“Our business was registered to a residence, so the office address helped establish us as a more legitimate business. Being part of the incubator is connecting us to other businesses that may need our services in addition to Baker Donelson and Johns Hopkins University partners,” Gilmore said. “We’ve made so many connections and hope that we are at the top of mind when people are thinking about promotion and marketing campaigns for their businesses or initiatives.”

Visit https://www.bakerdonelson.com/the-light-of-baltimore-incubator-at-baker-donelson to learn more about the incubator. You may find information to apply for Baker Donelson’s BakerBridge program via https://www.bakerdonelson.com/bakerbridge . It is intended to assist selected, early-stage minority owned businesses needing financial assistance for legal representation.

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