Last year, when Penny Lewandowski ran a program sponsoring networking events for Washington area technology workers, she helped plan a rare evening gathering in Baltimore.
Lewandowski was shocked by how many tech companies came out of the woodwork that night in Charm City. She was even more surprised by how few executives knew each other.
In March, Lewandowski moved to Baltimore, became executive director of the Greater Baltimore Technology Council, and put to work everything she knew about high-tech schmoozing.
Last week the heat was turned up in her effort to make Baltimore known as a technology community.
Lewandowski held court at the 10th annual Baltimore TechNite, a 1,000-person extravaganza. One of the major announcements that night was the launch of what organizers say is the first state business-to-business Web "portal" site promoting economic development, www.marylandb2b.com.
The challenges involved in helping to shape the disparate group of Baltimore companies into a technology community are similar to those Lewandowski encountered in the Washington area four years ago.
"We're trying to get people to understand there's a whole new industry here," she said. "Right now it's very decentralized. How do I make it feel like a region?"
The Baltimore area has a wealth of Internet and bioscience companies. Some examples are Paratek Microwave of Aberdeen, which develops antennas for satellite communications; Web services company USinternetworking of Annapolis; and biotech firm Osiris Therapeutics of Fells Point. Lewandowski said she has found nine or 10 Internet gaming companies in one area of the region -- Hunt Valley.
"We're seeing little hubs developing," Lewandowski said.
The Baltimore group's next plan is to take a page from the Washington area by gathering area "angels" -- individual investors -- for a dinner that could turn into an angel dinner club. And they'll probably start "meet the investor" events too, in which start-up executives get to know venture capitalists and other investors. They'll probably work with another group, the High Technology Council of Maryland, on some of these events.
"Baltimore is going to be an extension [of the Washington technology community] like Leesburg or Richmond," said Steve Walker, who runs investment firm Steve Walker & Associates in Glenwood.
Lewandowski said it's great to be able to use her Washington area contacts in Baltimore. On her birthday in June she got flowers from her former boss -- Mario Morino, one of the founding fathers of the Washington area tech community. He also sent an e-mail saying he'd donate $10,000 to TechNite.
Now that TechNite is over, Lewandowski is concentrating on meeting the players, introducing them to each other and figuring out which Baltimore tech execs should be on the board of the council.
While the Baltimore council doesn't operate the MarylandB2B Web site, Lewandowski lists it as one of the great accomplishments so far for the area, and the council is a founding supporter and advertiser.
The goal of the new Web site is to help Maryland businesses buy and sell from each other online as well as to provide an overall business resource for companies, government and academia in Maryland.
"I hope to build the community of interest in Maryland for e-commerce," said Karen Jagoda, senior vice president for the Maryland Information Technology Center, which runs the site. "We want to help companies in the state grow and stay in Maryland."
And Jagoda would like to attract some attention to the outstanding Maryland companies that are used to being overshadowed by the booming growth of Northern Virginia.
The MarylandB2B site got its start when Jagoda contacted Mark Walsh, the chief executive of VerticalNet Inc. The Pennsylvania company builds "vertical" communities on the Internet, sites that help companies within one industry sell products and services to each other online. VerticalNet, which went public in February, runs about 50 such sites.
"I'd been a fan of Mark's, and it occurred to me Mark's model could be adapted to what we're doing," Jagoda said.
Walsh, who lives in Maryland and is a former America Online Inc. executive, usually specializes in sites such as "Plant automation online" and "Solid waste online." But he thought the idea of a statewide business gateway was smart -- so smart that he has agreed to share with Maryland a small percentage of the revenue from any other state that asks him to do a similar site.
"It's the power of the idea," Jagoda said. "We want to help VerticalNet learn from it."
In planning the Maryland site, Walsh suggested to Jagoda that she visit one of the company's existing sites, imagine that all the rooms are empty and fill it with her own content, like furniture.
"We really have a community in a box," Walsh said. "It was add water and stir."
He was so proud of the site's launch last week that he brought his parents, who are Maryland residents, to TechNite.
Walsh said he hopes some of the nonprofits in Maryland will get involved with the site and that companies will use it to look for contracting opportunities. "I think that a sense of community will erupt," he said.