Julie Lenzer Kirk, who heads Howard County's Maryland Center for Entrepreneurship, has been to the White House for briefings before but has never been called upon to speak there.
She got her chance this week, amid the lofty ceilings and marble-paneled walls, delivering a presentation on a nearly year-old economic development effort.
"I enjoy public speaking, so I wasn't really nervous, although the three-minute hard limit had me doing some last-minute mental jockeying as I watched the speakers before me," Kirk said. Among representatives of 30 states, she stood at the podium in the Indian Treaty Room in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, which is considered part of the White House, and delivered a brief summation of efforts by a campaign called Startup Maryland.
Kirk wears a few hats in her efforts on behalf of businesses in the county and the state. She's co-director of Startup Maryland, and two years ago became executive director of the Howard County Economic Development Authority's Maryland Center for Entrepreneurship, although she is not a county employee.
Her work for the county and the state amounts to finding ways to help new and existing businesses thrive. That could mean helping entrepreneurs find money, employees, an employee training center, a place where they can begin operations, even a business partner.
Startup Maryland launched about eight months ago, one of many such efforts around the country, said Kirk, a resident of Montgomery County.
In the briefing Tuesday for Obama administration officials — including the head of the Small Business Administration and the White House Office of Science and Technology — there were representatives of 30 similar organizations from around the country.
She told the group of about 75 what Startup has been doing since it launched and its plans for the year, focusing in part on a Pitch Across Maryland bus tour, which rolled through 25 stops across the state in 21/2 weeks last September.
At each stop, entrepreneurs were invited to step aboard and record a pitch for their business on video. The videos have been edited to about three minutes each, and posted — for the consideration of potential investors — on a YouTube page linked through startupmd.org.
The campaign collected 168 videos in all. There's Raymond Cooper, making the pitch for Imagine IPD, which he calls a "clean-energy company," and his newly patented design for a wind turbine. Cooper says it's "bird-friendly" and capable of producing two or three times as much electricity as a standard turbine.
Then there's Audra L. Stinchcomb, founder and chief scientific officer for All Trans, a pharmaceutical company specializing in nicotine patches and pain medications designed to avoid some of the side effects common to these drugs.
Kirk told the group in Washington that Startup Maryland is planning another bus tour this year. Should any of these ventures stumble, they can take part in the campaign's "Fail Party" planned for this year — an event Kirk said would be an "opportunity to celebrate the lessons learned from failure."
Also planned are a project to create an online map showing where entrepreneurs can find training center, universities, office space and other resources. The campaign will also be working on a matchmaking program to help entrepreneurs find partners — an "eHarmony for entrepreneurs," Kirk called it — and a campaign to help business people tell their stories.
It was a lot for three minutes, even for a polished public speaker.
"It was a bit surreal to look out the window and realize where I was, and I felt honored and humbled to be representing Maryland entrepreneurs," she said.