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Three growing companies to watch

Citelighter's Lee Jokl and Saad Alam
Citelighter's Lee Jokl and Saad Alam - Amanda Nolan
Last year was a banner one for Baltimore area startups and the trend should continue in 2014, entrepreneurs say.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce named Maryland the top state for entrepreneurship and innovation while Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank launched a boot camp for entrepreneurs last year. And gb.tc Executive Director Jason Hardebeck recently launched a Baltimore accelerator, DreamIT Ventures, for healthcare information technology companies.
“The number and quality of startups is increasing. You can almost feel the momentum,” says Greg Cangialosi, managing member of startup funding group Baltimore Angels and Federal Hill incubator Betamore. The  Baltimore Angels had more than 200 requests for funding in 2013 and more than 700 requests total since the group’s inception since 2009.
BmoreMedia looked at three startup companies that are poised to grow quickly. Citelighter fled the Big Apple for Charm City. DinnerTime launched in Baltimore in October with the goal of offering busy parents a tool to help with meal planning. The third, SameGrain, is a new social media outlet that goes beyond online dating to match people who share similar interests.

Name: Citelighter
Leadership: Saad Alam, co-founder and CEO, and Lee Jokl, co-founder and COO
Funding to date: $950,000 from angel investors; looking at any and all grants, investors, partnerships in Baltimore
Location: Betamore, 1111 Light St.

For many small startups, the bright lights of New York City lure them away from Baltimore. But just the opposite happened with Citelighter, an academic research tool for citing online information.

Fellow technology entrepreneurs urged Citelighter co-founders, Saad Alam and Lee Jokl, to consider the move because of Baltimore’s strong focus on education and technology. Alam admits that he was resistant, but after spending time in the city, he knew that it was the right move for the company.

“There is so much movement in the schools, and people are willing to take a chance on something new,” Alam says of Baltimore. “I’ve never been anywhere where I’ve been welcomed so openly. People want to support [Citelighter] via both monetary capital and social capital.”
Citelighter took space in the Betamore offices in August. Four of the team members, including Jokl, will relocate next month, and Saad and Jokl just made their first Baltimore hire. Now serving grades three to 12 at approximately 2,100 schools nationwide, Citelighter is developing ways for teachers to analyze how students research.

As students research and create information via Citelighter, teachers receive a color-coded print. Teachers can look at sources used, citations included, and time spent organizing and writing to identify where students are struggling in the research process.
The Citelighter team has no plans to leave Baltimore and looks forward to working with teachers in the area. They hope to launch a pilot program in Baltimore City schools.The company will add 10 to 15 developers, curriculum experts, sales, and designers in 2014, with at least half in Baltimore.

Name: DinnerTime
Leadership: Laura Moore, founder and CEO; Charlie Moore, co-founder; and Sharon Lacy, co-founder and VP of wellness initiatives
Funding to date: $1.5 million from medical professionals and corporate executives from the grocery, insurance, healthcare and financial services industries, and members of the Baltimore Angels and other technology investors
Location: Greenspring Valley with development team in Charles Village

As a busy working mom, Laura Moore felt the daily burden of planning and preparing dinner. Like most parents, she wanted a nutritious meal for her family that was inexpensive and easy to prepare. Moore was inspired to solve her dilemma with technology that helps families and even employers plan their meals.

“I felt confident that we could create a truly personalized experience that could get ‘smarter’ the more it was used,” Moore says. Moore and her husband, Charlie Moore, both entrepreneurs and investors, partnered with former Greater Baltimore Technology Council CEO Sharon Lacy to launch the DinnerTime app.  The app considers budget, time, skill level, tastes, and dietary restrictions. The system asks an array of culinary likes and preferences, syncs with national and local grocers to pull weekly sales, and aggregates cost-effective meal plans.

DinnerTime began selling to consumers in December, offering a subscription for $29 for three months or $89 for one year.  It has helped “thousands” of customers plan 100,000 meals to date.

With the rising obesity rates equating to rising health insurance premiums, employers are searching for ways to keep their staff healthy. The first paying employers started offering DinnerTime as part of wellness initiatives in September. Launches have started or are scheduled at more than a dozen large employers, including Baltimore’s T. Rowe Price Group Inc.

“As an employer, we are always looking for innovative ways to support our associates in their quest for better health and work life balance,” says Michelle Tracy, global benefits manager for T. Rowe Price. “We launched [DinnerTime] in October and feedback has been extremely positive, with many associates creating profiles and using the tool regularly.”
DinnerTime says it is seeing steady month over month increases in users (as high as 300 percent growth in November). The average employer has enrolled more than 15 percent of its employees within the first two months. More than one-quarter of employees at T. Rowe Price Group Inc. and a regional Blue Cross Blue Shield have enrolled in DinnerTime.
The owners funded the company while it was in development and completed a $900,000 investment round in February. The company recently launched another funding round to get $1.5 million from individual investors. The owners have so far gotten nearly half, around $700,000. Moore says the company expects to break even by the middle of 2014 and will likely seek funding from institutional investors at that time.
The DinnerTime team is also looking for an office in the city to house its 15 full- and part-time employees.

Name: SameGrain
Leadership: Anne Balduzzi, founder, Ron Diegelman, co-founder and CFO, and Eric Eller, co-founder and CEO
Funding to date: Initial funding awards: $75,000 from Maryland TEDCO, and $250,000 from the Maryland VOLT fund
Location: Emerging Technology Center, 101 N. Haven St.

Veterans from Apple, AOL, Advertising.com, and Millennial Media came together to launch SameGrain, an online social discovery platform that helps people connect with others who share common interests. SameGrain execs say that users don’t have to disclose their identity, keeping privacy paramount in age when so much of our data is divulged online.

SameGrain’s patent-pending technology matches like users. For example, colleges can customize SameGrain's tools to match compatible roommates or facilitate networking. So a student who listens to country won’t be stuck with a fellow grad who only listens to hip hop.

"Facebook is primarily designed for your existing friends, relatives and friends of friends. On the flip side, SameGrain is designed to help you meet other people who have never crossed your path in life who you should meet,” says co-founder and CEO Anne Balduzzi. “Outside existing networks, there was no easy or private way to meet people who shared areas in common."

Led by Balduzzi, Ron Diegelman, and Eric Eller, SameGrain received $250,000 from Maryland’s VOLT fund, which distributes loans to small and minority businesses across the state. SameGrain also won the Washington Post’s startup idea competition. It set up its first office at the Emerging Technology Center incubator in Highlandtown in October 2013.

SameGrain is currently in private beta and plans to open to all users after the close of its first round of funding from angel and other investors. The company, which currently has four full-time and four part-time employees, is seeking programmers, a marketing and social media coordinator, and a design intern. This year the company will also launch its mobile app.

Renee Libby Beck is a freelance writer and public relations manager for Medifast Inc. Renee is the Baltimore Food Examiner for Examiner.com and writes for other blogs and publications.
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