Getting the High-Tech Community in Gear

Tim Baker

November 05, 1990|By Tim Baker

LAST WEEK, Greater Baltimore shifted gears and accelerated on the road to its high-tech future. You could feel the surge at every event during this region's first annual ''High Tech Week.''

The Greater Baltimore Committee's High Tech Forum put together the week-long program of technology-oriented trade fairs, research seminars and venture-capital forums to celebrate Baltimore's resurgent entrepreneurial spirit and the emergence of ''Industries of the Mind'' as the driving force in this region's new economy.

High Tech Week's unqualified success announced Greater Baltimore's new status as a leading international high-technology center.

The GBC's High Tech Week achieved a dramatic breakthrough -- it mobilized this region's high-tech community for the first time. Previous technology conferences and seminars in this area had largely attracted economic-development bureaucrats, real-estate developers, lawyers, accountants and other camp followers rather than technologists, venture capitalists and entrepreneurs.

Greater Baltimore's high-tech constituency didn't attend and remained unseen. More significantly, it didn't see itself. It didn't develop any sense of its own identity, size, strength, potential or importance.

Last week changed Baltimore's high-tech image of itself forever. Monday night's kick-off dinner sold out. The GBC's upbeat new audio-visual promotion of Baltimore applauded the region's technology pioneers before a room packed with 350 venture capitalists, scientists, academic researchers, technology-transfer experts and executives from Maryland firms large and small, from Westinghouse to biotech start-ups.

Tuesday morning, 400 people showed up at a breakfast to launch the Foundation for Manufacturing Excellence, a new nonprofit organization financed by a public-private consortium to improve the productivity and technical capacity of Maryland's small and medium-sized manufacturers.

Baltimore Venture Fair '90 may have achieved the biggest success of the week. On Tuesday and Wednesday it sponsored presentations by more than 50 regional high-tech companies, every one of which has already received venture capital. Seeking their next rounds of funding, they impressed a large audience of potential investors, including a number of national venture-capital firms which chose to come to Baltimore for the first time last week rather than attend the National Venture Capital Association's own annual biotech fair in California. These investors liked what they saw, and they will be back.

Thursday night, 100 aspiring entrepreneurs showed up at the MIT Enterprise Forum's Fourth Annual Venture Capital Forum to hear a panel of local venture capitalists describe and analyze their recent investments in regional technology companies. The program re-emphasized one of this region's strongest assets: more than $1.5 billion in venture capital and 30 experienced and successful firms to invest it.

Friday, a number of scientists attended an all-day seminar at Johns Hopkins Bayview Research Campus on the commercialization of biotechnological innovations.

Congratulations and thanks to all those who worked so effectively to achieve this breakthrough: the GBC and its deputy director, Thomas J. Chmura; J.C. Weiss, the new managing director of the Maryland Venture Capital Trust; Secretary J. Randall Evans and the Maryland Department of Economic and Employment Development; Jim Zug of Coopers & Lybrand; Charles W. Newhall III of New Enterprise Associates; Barbara Planthof of Zero Stage Capital; the region's other venture-capital firms; Alex. Brown & Sons; Dome Corporation; Warfield's magazine; and Frank, Bernstein, Conaway & Goldman.

To maintain the momentum created by last week's triumph, Dr. Hans Mueller, CEO of Nova Pharmaceutical and chair of the GBC's High Tech Forum, announced a challenging five-point agenda for the next twelve months:

* In the 1990's, Greater Baltimore should become the leading national center for biotechnology manufacturing. The first step toward that ambitious goal is the Baltimore bio-processing center now being jointly planned by Johns Hopkins, the University of Maryland and the Maryland Biotechnology Institute. The center would help Maryland biotech companies scale up to commercial production capacity here in this region, rather than fold themselves into the giant pharmaceutical houses which will export production to New Jersey and California. Gov. William Donald Schaefer's new budget must provide for substantial state investment in this exciting project.

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