Geeks on a Train Coming to NY, Boston on May 24 to Foster Intercity Innovation

5/3/12Follow @gthuang

While a good chunk of the startup community is celebrating TechStars Boston demo day with various pre- and post-parties, I thought I’d take the opportunity to think outside the local box for a moment.

I’m talking about Geeks on a Train, and it’s headed our way on May 24. If you’ve heard of Geeks on a Plane, the international exchange program for entrepreneurs run by 500 Startups, it’s kind of like that, only different. For starters, yes, there is a train involved.

Let me start over. Geeks on a Train (aka GOAT) originated in Baltimore. Lest you get all your info on that city from The Wire, I can tell you that the Baltimore-DC area is home to a burgeoning tech startup community. They have a lot in common with other similar-sized cities that have become innovation hubs. And they have a lot of ideas to share with their fellow East Coast brethren.

So on the morning of May 24, a group of them are getting on an Amtrak train in Washington, DC, and heading up the coast. They’ll make quick stops in Baltimore (and possibly Philadelphia) to pick up more people, then on to New York (for a lunch event), and, finally, Boston at the end of the day (for a dinner and networking event). In New York and Boston they’ll make the startup rounds, meet and greet, and connect with local entrepreneurs, investors, and other members of the innovation community. It’ll be like a rolling tweet-up (complete with hashtag #geektrain) mixed with elements of a hackathon.

The immediate goal, as organizer Jason Hardebeck puts it, is that “you’ll know who to call in Baltimore and DC [and other cities] to take you to where the cool kids hang out. This is about making first contact.”

Hardebeck leads the Greater Baltimore Technology Council (gb.tc) as executive director. He knows something about building startups too, having led WhoGlue, a private social-network company, from inception to its sale to Facebook last fall. He has also served as vice president of market development at Ze-gen, a Boston-based cleantech firm.

In his current role, Hardebeck promotes the interests of Baltimore-area tech companies—but with Geeks on a Train, he is looking to build relationships across cities, in the hopes of strengthening what he calls the “innovation corridor” of the East Coast. “There’s a reason this is where the industrial revolution started. We have all of the pieces,” he says.

The longer-term goal, over the coming months, is to encourage cross-city exchanges whereby a contingent of Baltimore-DC entrepreneurs, say, can come visit and share ideas with friendly hosts in Boston and New York—all in order to “get that collaborative spirit going,” Hardebeck says.

A few examples of challenges that East Coast tech communities may have in common: risk aversion (stigma of failure); relatively weak commercialization and spinoff efforts from big research universities; and lack of critical mass in consumer-focused startups. Also, a lack of friendly and constructive collaboration—which is, of course, what the Baltimore project is trying to address.

We’ll be watching to see how much support the project garners across cities. If you’re interested in participating in Boston or New York (both Xconomy cities), please leave a comment or send me a note to the address below.

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com or call him at 617-252-7323. Follow @gthuang

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