Interview with Stephanie Chin
In the heart of Baltimore, the Hutch is a dynamic co-working space for minority, black founders and women-led tech startups, and solo entrepreneurs. Established by their parent brand, Fearless, Hutch equips civic tech entrepreneurs with tools, mentorship, and peer-to-peer support. The aim is to support entrepreneurs from different backgrounds to build and grow tech companies to have a lasting impact on their government and their communities.
Hutch operates at the intersection of digital services, government, and community. Their program acts as a home base for our entrepreneurs, giving them a foundation of support to grow and be competitive on the market.
Following their recent expansion, we interview one of Hutch’s co-founders, Stephanie Chin, about their space and initiative:
1. To start, could you introduce yourself and your team?
Hi, I’m Stephanie Chin, the Hutch Program Manager at Fearless. In November 2020, I joined the company to lead our incubator and directly support digital services entrepreneurs. Also, I work alongside the Hutch team consisting of our Incubator Coordinator, Matthew, Fearless’ CEO, Delali Dzirasa, COO John Foster, and many more teammates within Fearless. I have a background rooted in business incubation and acceleration, and I’m very passionate about community and involved in various local Baltimore nonprofit organizations.
2. What is Hutch, the Fearless tech startup incubator?
Hutch is a Baltimore-based, 24-month incubator program. Created by Fearless, it provides minorities and women entrepreneurs with a blueprint for building successful, government-focused digital services firms. Fearless’ vision is to create a world where good software powers the things that matter. We know that we can’t do this by ourselves. So, in 2019, we created an incubator to grow diverse companies working toward the public good.
3. Your project started in 2019. Since then, you’ve promoted courses and training for Black founders, minorities, and women-led businesses. What are the challenges, and rewards, of working with those who often struggle to find financial support and a professional network to grow an online business?
We know that there is not enough diversity within government contracting, specifically within govtech. In order to have better outcomes, products, and services, the digital services marketplace needs more diverse teams – teams who represent the makeup of our communities.
We’re driving diversity and inclusion in government digital services by intentionally investing resources in minority-owned and women-owned businesses. Intentional support is key for founders who have historically been marginalized. Hutch is a way for us to take all we’ve learned and experienced at Fearless to help other businesses get further, faster than we did. There is no greater reward than building a piece of the world we envision, a world we feel proud of and see ourselves in.
Another example of our intentionality around diversity is Fearless’ 50/50 goal for recruiting. By 2024, we plan for our member representation to be at least 50% women and 50% minorities.
4. Let’s talk about the expansion at the Spark Baltimore coworking spaces. How does that story begin?
When a company joins Hutch, they’re joining an entire ecosystem of support. We wanted to create a community hub for digital services and civic tech entrepreneurs to build their businesses in Baltimore, in close proximity to Fearless coaches and their peers. Our companies come together (in person pre-pandemic and remotely since then) for monthly cohort training sessions. But we wanted to create a physical home base for their businesses. It’s a space where companies in our 24-month program and those who have graduated can grow and stay connected with one another.
5. What’s the focus of the mission for this new project? What are the values driving it? And what news do you have to share about it?
Hutch is building not just successful digital service companies, but impactful ones. Our mission is to nurture, empower, and connect underrepresented entrepreneurs. Specifically, those who are working toward the public good. So, we can foster a diverse ecosystem of digital services firms that transform the way our government serves its people.
Much like Fearless we believe people matter, doing good is worth the effort, and starting with what you have will get you what you need. Each day we encourage our cohort companies to show up as their most authentic selves and to bring resourcefulness and ingenuity into every project they take on. Together, we are transforming lives for the better.
6. What are the benefits of coming to you as a digital nomad or remote worker?
There’s something invaluable about the culture created by bringing impact-oriented people together, to collaborate and motivate one another. The relationships our companies form during the program run deep; they learn together, help each other, partner, and celebrate each other’s wins. I think many remote workers and entrepreneurs long for that type of culture and connectedness.
7. You are based in Baltimore and usually accept applications from local entrepreneurs. Since the expansion, you are also accepting applicants from tech cities like Austin, Texas, or Cleveland. What are the benefits of coming to Baltimore as a remote entrepreneur? Is the city a dynamic and inspirational place to start an online business from zero? Why?
We piloted Hutch with the intention of bein in Baltimore; it was important that entrepreneurs could travel to Baltimore for their monthly cohort sessions, and we’ve been able to scale to support businesses outside of the region. They join with the expectation of still coming to Baltimore once a month (when safely able to do so), but they also get to experience the wonderful opportunities, resources, and relationships we have here. We’re in an ideal location for government contracting given the proximity to Washington D.C. and federal agencies. Our new incubator space provides an opportunity for companies outside the region to have a Baltimore footprint.
8. What’s the biggest advantage that future remote entrepreneurs get from finding spaces and hubs where they can connect with like-minded people?
Being an entrepreneur is not an easy journey; it’s even more difficult when you feel alone, don’t have other entrepreneurs to connect with, or don’t know where to turn to for coaching or support. Sure, physical space is important (standing desks and snacks are appreciated), but the community is really what we’re building.
9. We’re asking you to go into speculation territory with this question – but we can’t escape talking about the pandemic. This long and forced work-from-home experiment brought numerous challenges, along with new opportunities. Do you see any changes in the way people approach their working life? Is remote work an opportunity or an obstacle? Maybe both?
I do see changes in the way people approach their work life. For some, it has forced us to find balance, to create a separation of space, and to be intentional about downtime and self-care. Some folks can thrive while remote while others miss or need an in-person work environment and what it brings- structure, daily routine, connection, culture, etc. Remote work is both an opportunity and an obstacle. On one hand, companies have a much wider talent pool to recruit from, but on the other hand, it’s harder to foster long-term culture and harder to retain talent.
10. Final question: If you were a world-renowned hacker and managed to hack into Slack servers, what message would you leave for every remote-minded entrepreneur out there? Or, if you would prefer: what message would you leave to incentivize people to create their own remote businesses?
Don’t underestimate your own potential in making the world a better place.