5 fledgling high-tech firms win state Challenge grants Maryland to invest $50,000 in each for developing new products

Technology awards

October 08, 1997|By Mark Guidera | Mark Guidera,SUN STAFF

A state program to help fledgling Maryland high-technology companies get their products fully developed yesterday named five firms that will each receive $50,000 state investments.

The $250,000 total, awarded under the state's Challenge Investment Program managed by the Department of Business and Economic Development, will go to four software firms and a maker of analytical instrumentation for the biotechnology industry.

The state has set aside $750,000 for the program during this fiscal year, which ends June 30, up from $600,000 last year. The grants are intended for early-stage technology companies in the telecommunications, information technology, life sciences, electronics and precision engineering fields.

Competition for the program so far has been strong, said Andy Spitzler, a spokesman for DBED. The state reviewed about 30 business proposals, he said.

The companies that will get Challenge awards are:

Columbia Bioscience Inc., based in Frederick. The company, founded by two former biotechnology industry executives, has purchased rights to a line of analytical instruments that it plans to improve and sell to the commercial and research markets. The company also has plans to market a line of instruments made by an Austrian firm, which has had difficulty breaking into the U.S. market.

LearnScape Corp., based in Annapolis. The company has licensed and is developing a portfolio of computer software packages for the educational and business and professional training markets.

Plan It! LLC, based in Columbia. This start-up is developing software that graphically details infrastructure of large computer databases and another software package that can determine and display the financial effect of alterations to database systems. The company hopes to find a market for the products among state and federal government agencies and industry.

Solution Technology International Inc., based in Oakland. This firm developes software packages for the insurance industry to allow workers' compensation claims to be processed over the Internet.

Wisdom Builder LLC, of Ellicott City. The company is developing software for federal intelligence agencies, such as the Central Intelligence Agency, and law enforcement.

DBED plans to use $150,000 of the $750,000 set aside this year to provide additional $25,000 grants to former Challenge investment recipients that meet specific product development goals or other milestones, said Spitzler.

Since 1989 when the Challenge program was launched, more than 64 companies have been been awarded investments, averaging $50,000.

In return for the grants, the state gets rights to royalty payments. Companies that obtain $1 million or more in additional outside financing may request that those rights be converted to equity stakes, Spitzler said.

Pub Date: 10/08/97

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