UMBC helps to get startups off ground

Incubator: Technology center serves as resource for emerging businesses and offers hands-on experience for students.


September 26, 2004|By Seth Rosen | Seth Rosen,SUN STAFF

In the past several months, five technology companies have moved into the business incubator at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. The techcenter@UMBC has become a magnet for startups enticed by its location and the university's facilities and resources.

The newest resident, software products company AVIcode Inc., joins more than 30 tenants in the 170,000-square-foot, five-building technology incubator adjacent to the UMBC campus. The center provides office and laboratory space, shared scientific equipment, business advisory services and the potential for collaboration between companies and UMBC faculty.

The addition of the center has also been a boon for UMBC's students. They have been a source of labor for the new companies, and students have gained hands-on experience in the technology sector. Blue Wave Semiconductors, which moved in at the end of June, quickly hired two students for the summer, said CEO R.D. Vispute.

`Definitely flourishing'

This new cluster of technology companies has proved that the technology center can draw promising businesses that provide jobs and contribute to the economic development of the state, said Ellen Hemmerly, the center's executive director.

"It is definitely flourishing," said Walter Schulz Jr., director of techcenter@UMBC. "We are at a 98 percent occupancy rate of available space. Ideally, we would like a waiting list."

Work on the incubator project began in 1989 and expanded in 1996, when UMBC purchased the 30-acre Martin Marietta Research Lab site. The commercial real estate firm Grosvenor is developing a 41-acre research and technology park in collaboration with the university. It will ultimately include 330,000 square feet of office and lab space. An advisory board screens startup technology companies that engage in research and development geared toward commercialization of products and services as potential tenants, Hemmerly said.

Once accepted into the center, the companies receive low rents, a rolling 60-day lease, shared office services and business mentoring help.

"This type of facility is critical to the growth of companies," said Phillip Singerman, executive director of the Maryland Technology Development Corp., which has provided $775,000 toward renovation of the center. "Emerging technology companies need access to these technologies, facilities and mentoring resources."

A company in the incubator program is usually short on capital, still trying to define the market for its product or service and needs the support and business experience of the technology center, Hemmerly said. Usually after two years, a company can "graduate" from the incubator program to become an "emerging" enterprise.

20 companies

More than 20 companies have graduated. Hemmerly hopes that the startup and emerging companies currently in the center will grow enough that they will need to move to bigger offices in the research park.

Paul Silber credits the resources and business knowledge of techcenter@UMBC for enabling his company, In Vitro Technologies, to expand from a small startup to one that has 65 employees and annual revenue exceeding $10 million.

"They have a strong group of business mentors and advisers to help us when we ... were relatively inexperienced and didn't know much about business," Silber said.

The tech center's location near Baltimore-Washington International Airport and Interstate 95 makes it draw for a young technology company, AVIcode CEO Mike Curreri said. When Curreri was looking to move his business, the center's prime position in the middle of the Baltimore-Washington corridor was one of its biggest selling points.

"Here we have access to inexpensive and easy transportation, access to potential customers and employees and access to the venture capital market in the area," he said.

Another plus for the center is its affiliation with UMBC. More than 45 faculty members have worked with the technology companies, and the center also operates an Idea Lab to help university faculty and students develop business concepts.

"UMBC has a great IT [information technology] program," said Johnny Flores, director of operations for TechGuard Security, which moved into the facility in May.

"The skill set of the faculty is what we are looking for to advance our product."

Companies are taking advantage of more than just the technical skills of the faculty.

"The staff has been tremendous in assisting us in opening doors with state and local officials," Flores said.

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