Security businesses find room to grow at facility

Partnership: The Chesapeake Innovation Center is billed as the nation's first `incubator' for homeland protection firms.

May 16, 2004|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Paul Barrett moved his business from Virginia to Anne Arundel County for one major reason: the Chesapeake Innovation Center.

The CIC, which opened last fall, is a public-private partnership that's billed as the nation's first incubator for homeland security-related business.

Only the most qualified startups are accepted, but once they are in, they enjoy access to investors and potential government and private-industry clients. The CIC also helps the companies develop marketable business models.

"Investors know the companies are pre-vetted," noted John Elstner, chief executive officer of the CIC.

Barrett is the CEO of Real User, a company that creates security technology that uses faces instead of passwords. The technology was recently sold to the U.S. Senate. In September 2003, Barrett's became one of the first businesses to move to the new center.

"We weren't really thinking about moving into an incubator," said Barrett, who brought his business to the United States from the United Kingdom about four years ago. "But the CIC has a very unique proposition, perhaps most specifically because it is focused on homeland security. Straight away, that gave us a platform with some credibility ... and also a great network of contacts."

`New ideas'

For Barrett, the CIC is the perfect place to nurture and grow his company.

"It takes time to introduce new ideas, particularly in such a conservative establishment as the security world," he said.

The 24,000-square-foot center, at 175 Admiral Cochrane Drive in Annapolis, has a dozen tenants working on everything from cyber-security systems to antidotes to anthrax poisoning, said Elstner.

"We expect to have 20 companies by the end of the summer," he said, which would put the center at or near capacity. "We're right on track. We have tremendous deal flow at the moment. We have applicants from California to London, from Florida to Nova Scotia. Everybody recognizes that they need to be in the Washington capitol region in order to do business in homeland security."

Though the CIC is focused on homeland security, plans to create it date to early 2001, before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Consultants, working for the nonprofit Anne Arundel Economic Development Corp. (AAEDC), decided to focus on information technology, already big in the county thanks to the National Security Agency and Fort Meade, which provides intelligence training for the Department of Defense.

So, in early 2001, the county took the next logical step and began considering the creation of an "incubator" that would nurture small companies, helping them provide products and services to the larger companies in the region.

The Chesapeake Innovation Center is supported by the AAEDC in partnership with the NSA, Innovent Nokia, ARINC, Piper Rudnick LLP, Whiteford Taylor and Preston LLP, and Sturn Wagner Lombardo & Co.

`Economic engine'

"The business plan said [information technology], telecommunications and homeland security," said Bill Badger, president and CEO of the AAEDC, a former government office that was privatized 11 years ago and now is a nonprofit company supported by the county. "We've found that we've established the brand as the nation's first national security incubator as a powerful brand."

"It's just been a wonderful economic engine for us," said Bob Burdon, president and CEO of the Annapolis and Anne Arundel County Chamber of Commerce.

David Wright, the CEO of PharmAthene, which creates treatments against the toxins in anthrax, said he first learned of the center while looking for business incubators in the state.

"We're in biodefense, and I thought it was a natural fit," he said. "They were promoting themselves as being a homeland security incubator. I wanted to be in this area just because of its proximity" to the nation's capital, the National Institutes of Health, the Food and Drug Administration and the Johns Hopkins University.

He likes the services and flexibility offered by the CIC, he said.

"It's been wonderful," he said. "Not only do they have the flexibility of allowing you to grow or shrink as needed without signing long-term leases, they provide a number of other services."

His company has 14 employees and recently filed an Investigational New Drug application with the FDA. He anticipates that clinical trials on humans for one of his projects will begin in May.

Windermere

The CIC isn't the only source for business development in Anne Arundel County. Another new project is the Windermere headquarters, which will be built on Windermere's 37-acre property near U.S. 50 and Interstate 97. It is expected to open in 2006.

The 11-story anchor building of the three-building project will occupy the highest elevation in the county and enjoy considerable visibility.

Annapolis-based architects Boggs and Partners will lead the project's design. Windermere, an employee-owned company founded in 1998 by Robert G. Pozgar, provides information technology with a focus on homeland security.

Also helping the local economy is the continuing $1.8 billion expansion and renovation at Baltimore-Washington International Airport. As the airport improves, more businesses will be attracted to the county, Badger said.

He also noted that the Parole Shopping Center in Annapolis is being acquired by the Greenberg Commercial Corp. of Owings Mills.

He anticipates a "suburban Main Street mixed use" for the site, with a main boulevard where pedestrians can stroll from store to store.

And in Glen Burnie, Petrie Ventures is investing about $8 million to revitalize the Glen Burnie Mall, adding a Target store and a Bennigan's restaurant and changing the name to the Centre at Glen Burnie.

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