Maryland Honors Creativity

March 18, 1994|By Joel Obermayer | Joel Obermayer,Sun Staff Writer

A visor to wipe away the winter blahs, a lightweight air tank for firefighters and a newfangled machine to rotate hay were some of the Maryland-built products honored with state financial awards in Annapolis yesterday.

The Department of Economic and Employment Development handed out 10 Challenge Investment awards of $50,000 each to companies with innovative products and good business plans.

In making awards, "we're looking for potential future growth and job creation," said Mark L. Wasserman, secretary of DEED. "Advancing the commercialization of science is pivotal to the economy of Maryland."

Since the program began in 1989, the department has given out $1.7 million to 32 companies, Mr. Wasserman said. Past winners have been able to use the awards as "seals of approval" and raise money elsewhere, he said.

According to Audrey S. Theis, assistant secretary for business resources, companies in the program have created 350 jobs and have been able to attract $20 million in additional private-sector funding after receiving their awards.

Among this year's winners was Bethesda-based Bio-Brite Inc., which manufactures a visor that staves off winter depression, known to doctors as seasonal affective disorder, with light therapy.

"Very severe clinical depression can be brought on by lack of light during the wintertime," said company founder Dr. Gordon Wallace. "Affected people respond well to bright-light treatment," he said. The visor sells for about $300.

Space-age materials helped Pressure Technology Inc. of Hanover win its award. The firm makes air tanks from carbon composite and other materials that are as strong as steel tanks, but with as little as one-third the weight.

Company President and Chief Executive Officer Donald Rickelman said the company's tanks are already in use in the Baltimore and Anne Arundel County fire departments. The same technology can also be used to make lighter fuel tanks for cars powered by natural gas, like those under development at Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., he said.

The company, which employs six full-time workers, plans to use the money for capital expenses and training. "We believe we will be increasing our employment later in the year," Mr. Rickelman said.

Not all of the products were high-tech. Garrett Container Systems Inc. of Accident, in Garrett County, is trying to market a machine that helps farmers rotate hay to let it dry evenly without ripping it apart.

"It will do work normally done with two machines," said inventor Kermit Yoder.

The awards used to be grants. But in the last two years, the department has required that companies repay the money, with interest, but only if the company gains a certain profit level.

THE WINNERS

Company/location ... ... ... ... ... ... Product

Bio-Brite Inc., Bethesda ... ... ... ... Light therapy visor

BioFin Inc., Baltimore .. .. ... ... ... Fish growth hormone

Custom Materials Inc., Ellicott City ... Corrosion-resistant brass

vTC Garrett Container Systems Inc.,Accident ... Hay inverter

Image Sciences Corp.,Rockville .. Imaging-data retrieval software

Innovative System Developers, Columbia ... Geographic software

Lean Power Corp., Silver Spring ... ... .. Emission control system

Pressure Technology Inc., Hanover ... Lightweight gas container

ASynchroCell Inc., College Park ... ... ... Cell growth regulator

US Advantage, Hunt Valley ... ... .. .. .. Water-based printing

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