Turning technology into commerce Incubator: An $800,000 grant from the Goddard Space Flight Center will help companies in the Baltimore area access space-age technology and give them assistance in manufacturing and marketing new uses for it.

July 25, 1998|By Kristine Henry | Kristine Henry,SUN STAFF

From new ways of detecting breast cancer to predicting when hurricanes will strike, the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt has developed technology in the name of space exploration that can also be put to use here on Earth.

An $800,000 grant from Goddard to the Maryland Economic Development Corp. (MEDCO) will help existing and start-up companies in the Baltimore area access that technology and give them assistance in developing, manufacturing and marketing new uses for it.

The grant will go to a MEDCO offshoot, the Emerging Technology Center, a business incubator now under construction in the old American Can Co. in Canton. Scheduled to open in the fall, the incubator will provide offices, clerical support, office equipment and, most importantly, technical assistance to companies trying to commercialize new technologies.

"Companies will get below-market rates for the space, business mentoring, links to technical support and expertise, and help finding financial support and management assistance," said Kathleen Weiss, the center's director. "It helps them conserve cash in the critical early stages."

The center has formed partnerships with Johns Hopkins University, Morgan State University and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, to provide faculty and student support for companies that need assistance with everything from building a prototype to figuring out how to market new technology.

NASA and MEDCO have yet to determine specific criteria for allowing a company to join the center, how many companies will be allowed to sign up or even what technology will be developed. The center, which had been planned long before the National Aeronautics and Space Administration got involved, can accommodate about 40 companies. Center organizers expect about half of the occupants to work on NASA-related projects.

Marsha Schachtel, a senior fellow at the Johns Hopkins Institute for Policy Studies, helped MEDCO put together its grant proposal. She said the center will likely focus on start-up companies that have already licensed Goddard technologies and need a place to set up operations.

That could include "people who are going after the creation of a company part time in their basement or garage, who have not quit their day jobs," she said. "Or it may be an established company that needs to consult with Goddard people."

Goddard will have a representative on the board that determines who will be admitted to the center, but the agency won't have sole control over the procedure.

"What they want is for us to help them, and what we want for companies is to have [NASA's] skilled folks participate," said Hans Mayer, MEDCO's executive director. "If I had a space-medicine technology, what are the chances of me calling NASA and saying, 'Hey, who do I talk to about this?' I think it'd be very difficult. We provide the framework to make that call."

The technology center will cost about $3.5 million to get up and running. It is funded through federal, state and city agencies, along with a contribution from the Abell Foundation. Rent at the center will run $15 per square foot.

NASA, which has similar projects nationwide, has several reasons for funding the center.

When NASA was started in 1958, its charter mandated that it share its research and technologies with the public.

Additionally, once the technology has been refined and TTC marketed for private-sector use, the companies using that technology pay licensing fees to NASA for the rights to use it.

Pub Date: 7/25/98

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