It’s the Monday morning before Christmas, and EcoMap Technologies’ new CEO starts the day alone in his new, private office.
It can be lonely at the top. But for Sherrod Davis, especially so. He’s filling a role once occupied by Pava LaPere, his professional partner and friend, whose September death sent shock waves throughout Baltimore. This office, this job title, this moment: It was never supposed to be like this.
The company’s board appointed Davis, EcoMap’s co-founder and former chief operations officer, as CEO near the end of October, about a month after LaPere’s killing and the terrifying, dayslong manhunt for the man charged in her death. It happened on the heels of a banner year for LaPere, 26, a Forbes “30 Under 30″ member in the prime of her life.
Consumed by grief, horror and shock, Davis and the staff faced an impossible question in the wake of the tragedy: Can their work go on without her?
A few months later, LaPere’s death still hangs over Davis. But he’s found comfort in the intense work of keeping their shared dream alive. He’s finding that it soothes him. He’s listening to her ghost — what she would’ve said, what she would’ve done.
“She’s still with us. You can feel it,” Davis said. “I can feel it.”
Their partnership had been “hand in glove,” Davis likes to say. LaPere wrote the script, he brought it to life. She powered the company as its visionary, and he kept it running with sharp business acumen. They had a road map for growth and success and progress. But they hadn’t accounted for this.
Davis, 32, said the company has rallied behind him and joined him in forward motion. All feel a sense of obligation to keep her with them and to lift Davis up. They owe her that much.
“Energetic is not the right word, or a strong enough word, but she had an energy about her, I think,” Davis said. “And I think the unique thing is that, we all have a little piece of that now. And so when you add up all 30 of those little pieces, they can take you pretty far.”
As tough as 2023 may have been for the company, the team has reasons to feel hopeful about what’s ahead. EcoMap, which designs software that plots resources, jobs, events and news within local “ecosystems” on a one-stop website, has raised $7.5 million in seed money over the last three years and expects more to come in 2024. The company launched a new product this year — a 24/7 responsive, AI-powered chat tool called EcoBot — that has rolled out to about a dozen clients. Davis said the company has landed 80 contracts to date and has its sights set on an ever-evolving list, ranging from professional sports foundations to the federal government.
Davis, a Baltimore native, joined the company in 2021 after meeting with its CEO and feeling drawn to her — a force as strong as gravity, he told a crowd of mourners last month at a celebration of life service at the Johns Hopkins University. He found a kindred spirit in LaPere, who disarmed him early on with blunt honesty, humor and an unparalleled work ethic. And he found purpose in EcoMap, which strives to make all information accessible.
“Those with more time have more information, and those with more information have more time,” he said in December in his office, a sparsely decorated room in a converted industrial warehouse in Charles Village that the team had moved into a few weeks prior. “What we intend to do is break down the barriers associated with that so that everyone can operate more efficiently.”
Their clients include everyone from tech leaders and librarians to local stamp collectors, who, for example, may use the site to list key contacts, post meet-up invitations or aggregate all news links related to the topic. Each one receives their own curated, customized EcoMap, updated regularly using artificial intelligence, as well as hands-on assistance from the company on how to sustain the ecosystem and gain value from the product.
At the company headquarters on Howard Street, the team also has its eyes on new modules and opportunities. There’s “SuperConnect,” for example, an analytics and intelligence platform where clients can measure the strength of their ecosystem with data.
“Who came up with ‘SuperConnect?’” Davis asked during a meeting with managers. Then it dawns on them all, and they laugh. Their boss had a thing about names.
There’s also the EcoMap PLACE Builder Fellowship, a mentorship program in LaPere’s honor the team is raising $100,000 for (PLACE stands for the Pava LaPere Award for Cultivating Ecosystems, another nod to her love of a good acronym). Kevin Carter, the company’s director of business development and a close friend of LaPere’s, encouraged the staff at an all-hands meetings to seek out more donations over the holidays.
Davis, now tasked with combining two jobs into one, said it mostly comes naturally to him — the fundraising, the pitching, the personnel management. But the hardest part of the job is the fact he has to do it at all.
“I just miss her,” he said.
In his new, private office, he imagines a world where he’s not CEO, and where his friend is still there, regaling colleagues with stories from the weekend, or handing out holiday cards, or giving him hell about his schedule. That’s not the world he’s inherited. And yet, he can feel it. She hasn’t quite left it yet.