What do a Federal Hill based contractor, a popular Asian restaurant, and a management consultancy with clients on five continents all have in common?
All three are among the 100 fastest growing companies in America’s inner cities, according to Fortune Magazine’s Inner City 100 list. The list, which measures growth based on revenue and job increases over a four year period, is developed each year by the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City, a nonprofit research organization.
The 2020 Inner City 100 winners were selected out of a pool of around 300 applicants. Released late last year, the list featured eight Baltimore businesses in total, including three in the top 10. Eight is a high number of businesses in a single city to make the list, suggesting growth in Baltimore’s small business sector, according to Vi Mai, a senior
associate, data strategy and integration for ICIC.
Among that number was MD Energy Advisors, an energy consultancy that works mostly with clients in the commercial real estate sector. The firm has been based in Baltimore since its inception in 2010, according to its
president, Jason Schwartzberg.
Schwartzberg attributes the company’s significant growth over those four years to the company’s unique model; whereas other firms tend to specialize in either energy or cost efficiency, MD Energy Advisors takes a holistic
approach, looking for solutions that do both.
He cited MD Energy Advisors’ work with Grander Capital Partners, a real estate company based in Newton, Massachusetts, and Baltimore as an example of this strategy. The firm has worked with Grander Capital in a number of capacities, from brokering electricity and natural gas to optimizing their HVAC systems.
“I think that’s a good example of a client that we kind of started small with, we just kind of started on that price side, and ultimately we started doing what we really like to do, which is strategic advising,” he said.
Although MD Energy Advisors got into the energy industry “late,” Schwartzberg said, based on the fact that energy had been deregulated in Maryland around 10 years earlier, this hybrid model is what set the company apart from others and allowed it to grow enough to clock in at No. 48 on the Inner City 100 list. From 2015 to 2019, the company gained seven employees and its revenue grew by 177%.
The list features two Baltimore businesses that grew their revenue by over 1,000% between 2015 and 2019. One recipient is a business most Baltimoreans are probably familiar with: Ekiben, a popular Asian fusion restaurant with locations in Fells Point and Hampden that has won accolades from StarChefs, Travel & Leisure and Eater. Coming in
at No. 2 on the list, Ekiben gained 50 employees and grew its revenue a whopping 1,837% in that four year period.
The other, ranked No. 6 on the list, is Nyla Technology Solutions, a government contractor that provides full-stack software engineering for the Department of Defense and the federal intelligence community. Its CEO and founder, Shana Cosgrove, started the business from her couch in Federal Hill in 2013, and since then has hired 43 employees and grown Nyla’s revenue by 1,454%.
Unlike some of the Baltimore business owners on the Inner City 100 list, Cosgrove isn’t a native Marylander; she hails from Pittsburgh and studied at the University of Virginia. When she and her husband first relocated to Federal Hill, she wasn’t excited about the move.
But the neighborhood ended up being the perfect place for Cosgrove and her family. Federal Hill’s amenities and strong sense of community are what reeled her in, and its qualification as a Historically Underutilized Business Zone — a program that offers small businesses headquartered in these areas preferential access to federal procurement opportunities — is what has helped Nyla to grow so much over just a few years.
“We not only love being in the city and being part of the city, both from an economic perspective and community perspective, but it’s been great from a strategic perspective (as well),” Cosgrove said. “It was dumb luck that we
ended up that way, but then it ended up being a core part of who we are and really foundational in how we grew.”
A four year revenue increase of upwards of 1,000% is impressive amongst small businesses — and it’s especially impressive for businesses in under resourced areas, which the ICIC defines as areas with high concentrations of poverty and unemployment.
“For these businesses to grow tremendously is something that we’re very proud of, and we believe that by celebrating them, it is giving inspiration to other businesses in that same community to continue to grow,” Mai said.
Veltrust LLC, which, like Nyla, also cracked the Inner City 100’s top 10, had also considered locations outside of Baltimore. A strategic advisory firm that works with many international clients, it would have made sense for the
company to be headquartered in nearby D.C., in close proximity to embassies and the federal government.
But Jaian Cuttari, a Maryland native with ties to Baltimore city, Prince George’s County and Montgomery County, chose to stick with Baltimore when he launched the firm in 2015, in part due to the client base it offered — lots of small and midsized businesses who need advice on expanding into different markets — and in part because he wanted to do his part to uplift the city’s economy.
“Maryland has a lot to offer and it wouldn’t do it justice if I (started my business in) some other region, when I myself have been here my entire life,” Cuttari said.
He attributed his company’s revenue growth of 968% between 2015 and 2019 to the versatility and flexibility that comes with being a small business. The company has 23 employees total, which he said helps avoid situations in which bureaucracy would delay the company from making an important decision or helping a client quickly.
Veltrust’s growth is also reflected in the company’s global reach. When Cuttari started the firm, all of his clients were based locally or in Southeast Asia; now, they’re located across five continents.
“If you came to us and you said, ‘hey, I need to do this and this in some random place in the Congo,’ well, we can make it happen,” he said.
The other four Baltimore businesses that made the list were THG Companies LLC, a construction subcontractor; All Staffed Up, a staffing and managed service provider; Medical Claims Solutions, a medical revenue cycle management company; and Watkins Security Agency, a security guard agency.
“I don’t think, in comparison to other cities, we had the same kind of turnout as we had in Baltimore,” Mai said.
By: Johanna Alonso Daily Record business reporter – January 14, 2021