New CEOs get more nurturing space

High-tech companies find helpful environment in expanded `incubator'

Small business

April 30, 2001|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

After renovations that provided the county's NeoTech incubator with an additional 10,000 square feet of space, businesses are piling in to stake their claims.

Two new companies added their names to the incubator roster this month, two more are expected next month, and three others are under evaluation by the incubator advisory committee, said Michael Haines, director of business development. Haines also said the incubator will launch its Entrepreneurial Quick Start program in the fall, to better train technology geniuses to be entrepreneurs.

Votara, a company that designs speech recognition programs to automate business processes, and Sphere Corp., a spin-off of the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab in Laurel that builds information-filtering technologies that plug into computer firewalls, were the first of the new generation of companies to move into the incubator. Both moved in at the beginning of the month, landing in the county's technology growing chamber after gaining experience as a start-up and refocusing company efforts.

Votara, which began in Columbia as Software Solutions Group, abandoned its customized software development for a generic product it hopes to sell to manufacturers and other companies that have a fleet of operators to take orders.

Rakesh "Tony" Thakur, CEO and founder of the company, which has six full-time and six part-time workers, said he located in the incubator because he wanted to be around other entrepreneurs.

"It really is a tremendous place for a company in the start-up stage," Thakur said. "Just the energy level that comes from seven other companies doing the same kind of thing you're trying to do. I don't feel like I'm all alone here growing the company. I feel like there's a whole family helping me grow."

The system, VOTARAAgent, logs orders or connects phone calls by voice command, alleviating the work for operators or receptionists, and allowing them to focus on other aspects of their jobs. The technology can recognize the speech of people with thick or unusual accents in several languages, Thakur said.

Sphere Corp., parent company of the former Guarded Profile, re-incorporated the subsidiary this year and moved to the incubator after a lease in Sykesville had ended, said Dave Glock, founder and CEO of both companies.

Glock said he merged the companies after he realized the several individual technologies he had licensed from APL could be used together more effectively to build a single product and toolboxes to manage it. The result is the Impedio XML firewall, which filters information stored in a main database geared to the user and his or her need for information to perform a task.

Glock is targeting health care organizations as primary customers because of new federal regulations requiring the industry to do a better job of maintaining privacy for patients. Using Impedio, the access to medical records that a receptionist at a doctor's office has would be restricted, while a physician can have access to the entire record. He said he expects to release a basic, free version that users can download over the Internet within a few weeks.

"It makes a clean solution and a better solution for people," he said. "This thing has the ability to personalize and restrict access."

Glock and Thakur may be among the first participants in the Entrepreneurial Quick Start program, which is scheduled to begin in September. The eight-week course will be offered jointly by Howard Community College and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, Haines said. The program, which will be open to anyone interested in starting a business, will be a requirement for business leaders who join the incubator after it gets started. CEOs already in the incubator may also participate, he said.

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