Howard incubator hatches success

Almost full: A nearly full Howard County high-tech incubator has made more progress than any other in the state.

April 08, 2002|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

As the Howard County Economic Development Authority's Neotech incubator brings in its 12th business next month, the 20,000-square-foot facility is filling to the brim and the program is proving a success.

Marking two years in the incubating business next month, the information technology business program has graduated one company, expects to graduate as many as three more this year, and is attracting the attention of the investment community, with about half its tenants finding outside financing.

Revenue for the incubator companies is projected at between $8 million and $10 million, officials said, and managers there also are spawning entrepreneurship programs for youth and the disabled.

"I think it's fair to say, just starting out two years ago, they've made more progress in that period than any other incubator in the state," said Philip A. Singerman, executive director of the state Technology Development Corp. "They've done a really good job of leveraging their resources."

Just this year, two companies have joined the incubator. Difference Engines, which says its compression technology improves data transmission efficiency by 50 percent to 100 percent, arrived last month.

Arriving last week was Business Devices, which makes software that allows supply companies to better monitor their customers' off-site facilities such as storage tanks, and links that information back to the supply company's scheduling and inventory systems.

Next month, the incubator expects to add Syncrodyne, a company working to make more powerful amplifiers for cell phones using a mathematical process called nonlinear dynamics.

With the addition of that company, the incubator will be 97 percent full, said Michael Haines, senior vice president of small business development.

"When we tell people what we've done with the incubator in two years, they're amazed," Haines said. "One of the interesting things is we're starting to attract a lot of the investment community. Over the last three months, the investment community has suddenly realized what we're all about.

"We're probably getting on average one investment type per week" visiting the incubator, Haines said.

The incubator, on Bendix Road in Columbia, is a public-private enterprise that houses and nurtures high-tech, startup companies. The companies share office support services and equipment, and have access to mentoring programs and an advisory board of volunteers who are successful entrepreneurs.

The facility started with 10,000 square feet in May 2000 and doubled in size in less than a year. Haines said incubator officials would be talking to County Executive James N. Robey this year about getting another 10,000 square feet.

To date, 11 companies have been part of the incubator program. One, EpiTech, which develops computer-based training programs, graduated in the fall, moving to its own offices after only a year in the program. Sphere, which works on developing firewall systems, is expected to graduate this year, along with several others.

Last year, the incubator started two programs to encourage young entrepreneurs. The programs, both financed by grants, drew more than 40 youths to the center to build a mock technology company and learn about entrepreneurship.

Now that the incubator has just about reached capacity, the managers and its advisory board are making plans for its continued growth.

Wayne Swann, chairman of the advisory board for the incubator, said a committee is working on contingency plans in case the county sells the building. The panel is weighing whether a new incubator should include biotechnology companies.

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