High-tech hopefuls make their pitch at GBC fair

October 17, 1992|By Liz Bowie | Liz Bowie,Staff Writer

Ashok K. Shukla thinks he sees the future, and it's in sialic acid.

But for now, the biochemist is content to be secretary, salesman, mail department and inventor for Sialomed Inc., the one-person company he started in January and which has so far nothing to do with sialic acid.

The 42-year-old India-born scientist wanted to found a biotechnology company, but unlike many chief executives he decided not to risk millions to set up a research laboratory that would turn out products years down the road.

Instead, he began inventing products that could eventually produce enough revenue to fund his research on sialic acid, a sugar that coats cells and, he believes, can lead to the development of products to diagnose cancer, genetic diseases and infectious diseases.

Dr. Shukla is like a couple dozen other presidents of small and struggling high-technology companies that are being nursed along in academic and economic development incubators in Maryland.

Yesterday, 14 of those companies tried to explain to business people and investors what it is they do and why they think they will be different than the hundreds of start-up companies that fail. The fair was held as part of the Greater Baltimore Committee's month-long high-tech forum.

Held at the Baltimore Museum of Industry between the relics of the city's industrial past -- from printing machines to steamship memorabilia -- the fair represented what the GBC hopes will be the city's new future.

Even their names are difficult to understand: Molecular Tool Inc., Paragon Biotech Inc., Biotrax Inc., Tetrahedron Inc., Sternberger Monoclonals Inc.

But they are popping out of incubators at the University of Maryland campuses at Baltimore County and College Park, the Johns Hopkins University Bayview Research Campus and the South Harbor Business Incubator, run by the Baltimore Development Corp.

Although Dr. Shukla has no employees so far, his wife helps him out and, beginning Monday, he will have a full-time saleswoman on contract.

But his two new products -- one which separate large molecules from small and a second which purifies DNA -- are selling well in the research laboratories of the National Institutes of Health, Johns Hopkins and some of the biggest biotechnology companies.

"We are in the black ink," he said. "We can pay some taxes this year, I think."

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