Towson U. due international business incubator

June 17, 2006|By ALLISON CONNOLLY | ALLISON CONNOLLY,SUN REPORTER

The state will get its first incubator focused on international business in late summer, Baltimore County and Towson University officials announced yesterday.

The Towson University Business Globalization Center will help local and international entrepreneurs tap into the growing global economy from Baltimore County.

"The city must look beyond its own borders to stay competitive," said Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. at a news conference at Towson's Johnny Unitas Stadium Field House.

The incubator, the state's 17th, will provide entrepreneurs subsidized rent, office equipment and consulting services to help them grow here and overseas.

While the incubator is starting small - Towson is leasing 5,000 square feet at the Terrace Dale office complex at the edge of the Towson campus --- Towson University President Robert L. Caret said the goal was for it to ultimately house 50 companies in 80,000 square feet.

"You get excited when you see what comes out of it - economic growth, new jobs and new business," he said.

The county has committed $125,000 to the project, with an understanding it will give more over the next five years. The incubator also will be funded by Towson University, private donations and a $300,000 grant from the federal Small Business Administration.

In return, the county expects to benefit from the new jobs and tax revenue generated by companies that grow out of the incubator, Smith said.

For every dollar spent on the incubator, the county should reap $30 in private capital investment, according to a $47,500 feasibility study conducted last year by a consultant and funded mostly by the Maryland Technology Economic Development Corp. The study also said 84 percent of the fledgling companies typically remain in the community after they "graduate" from the incubator.

Maryland Secretary of Business and Economic Development Aris Melissaratos said the state is increasingly benefiting from trade overseas, with exports by Maryland companies growing from $4.2 billion in 2003 to $7.1 billion last year.

"I think the niche you've carved out is the right one at the right time," he told school and government officials.

The school will conduct a national search for a director. In the meantime, the incubator will be run by Dyan Brasington, Towson's director of economic and work force development, and James Clemens, vice president of economic and community outreach.

Caret has wanted to establish an internationally focused incubator since arriving at Towson three years ago from San Jose State University in California, where he established one that attracted a lot of interest from Asian companies. With more U.S. companies doing business overseas, Caret thought Towson could benefit from one as well.

The incubator is also a strategic move to make Towson more competitive. The school has grown from its origins as a small teachers college to a university with more than 19,000 students. It plans to launch an MBA program in conjunction with the University of Baltimore in the fall, and it also offers an undergraduate program in international studies.

Towson graduate John Ferber said he and his brother could have used an incubator with services such as legal advice, tech support and office equipment in 1998 when they started Advertising.com.

The two rented a small office a block from the school on York Road and shared two dial-up modems with more than a dozen employees. Today, the company - which the Ferbers sold two years ago to America Online Inc. for $435 million - has 600 employees in eight countries. "Ten years ago, it was a three-month wait" to order high-speed Internet access, Ferber said.

allison.connolly@baltsun.com

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