First fledglings ready to move to incubator sites

New high-tech venture seeks to encourage business development

Howard Business

March 20, 2000|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,Sun Staff

For the past 10 weeks, Bruce Montgomery has been running his high-technology business from the basement of his Clarksville home and holding weekly staff meetings with his three co-workers in local restaurants.

But this spring, they will have more appropriate facilities when they move into Howard County's new high-technology incubator.

Work began recently to convert 10,000 square feet of space in the former AlliedSignal Building on Bendix Road in Columbia into the county's first public facility to help fledgling businesses.

Sixteen companies have expressed interest, and three, including Montgomery's Syntonics LLC, have been accepted into the NEOTECH Incubator,

"It's a place in which fledgling start-up technology companies can lean on each other," said Richard W. Story, chief executive officer of Howard County Economic Development Authority, which will oversee the incubator.

Businesses in the facility will be able to share office support services and equipment and take advantage of mentoring programs.

"It lets you get started on the important stuff," said Montgomery, whose company develops and builds ultra-stable oscillators, a device for communication systems.

Story said the Economic Development Authority had wanted for some time to start a business incubator. With similar facilities filled at the University of Maryland, College Park and at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, a center that could nurture start-up businesses was needed in the Baltimore-Washington corridor, he said.

The incubator will focus on firms specializing in computer hardware and software and telecommunications. The companies will be allowed to lease space in six-month intervals for a maximum of three years.

Rent will be based on a three-tiered scale, starting at $11 a square foot for the first year and rising to $14 to $16 a square foot in the third year -- compared with the $20-a-square-foot rate for Class A office space in the county.

By offering short-term leases below the market rate, the incubator allows new companies to use their limited funds on product creation and production, Story said.

"Their debt load is much less," he said.

With $337,000 from the state and $75,000 from the county, the Economic Development Authority will develop 10,000 square feet -- or about half the facility -- this spring.

A second phase, which requires similar funding, is planned; if approved, it would provide an additional 10,000 square feet next year.

When completed, the incubator is expected to house 15 to 20 businesses, which will lease space ranging from 250 square feet to 2,500 square feet, Story said.

Businesses applying to the park will be selected based on the feasibility of their ideas and the likelihood of success, he said.

Of the three businesses accepted, two are spinoffs from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory: Syntonics Corp. and Dot21 Real-Time Systems, a software firm. The other company is Medisolv, which designs Internet portals for health care businesses.

"We are very excited by it," said Zahid Butt, co-founder and chief executive officer of Medisolv. "Hopefully, we will have a lot of interaction with other young entrepreneurs."

Nationally, 85 percent of the graduates of business incubators locate within five miles of where they began, Story said. If the national trend holds true locally, Howard County should capture most of the businesses that start in the incubator, he said.

Montgomery said he expects to stay in Columbia after his firm graduates from the incubator. "Living and working in and around Columbia is a good place to be," he said.

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