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Incubate Innovate
Measuring success at bwtech@UMBC Research and Technology Park
- By Richard Byrne ’86

It took more than a decade for former UMBC President Michael Hooker’s vision of a university research park to become a reality. So how is it measuring up?

“It’s a realized vision,” says Ellen Hemmerly, executive director of bwtech@UMBC Research and Technology Park.

At present there are 50 companies and other organizations at the bwtech@UMBC complex. These entities range from the two corporations (RWD Technologies, Retirement Living TV/Erickson Living) and one government agency (the U.S. Geological Survey) that anchor the complex to smaller incubator companies that often graduate to become larger businesses.

The economic impact for the region has been significant. A 2006 study conducted by the Sage Policy Group Inc. & Nearing Group estimated that the bwtech@UMBC Research and Technology Park had created over 2,000 new jobs in the state of Maryland. Businesses at bwtech@UMBC also create $100 million in salary, corporate spending and other income to the region each year – and generate $207 million in business sales.

There are stories behind the dollars generated and jobs created at bwtech@UMBC, however. Over the last two years, companies and tenants at the research park have snapped up awards for innovation and building design from the Daily Record, the Environmental Business Journal, the Greater Baltimore Committee and the Maryland chapter of Commercial Real Estate Development Association (NAIOP). And in 2008, the Incubator and Accelerator also won Baltimore County’s New Directions Award for organizations that “exemplify the quality of Baltimore County businesses in the future.”

But bwtech@UMBC is also fulfilling its other mission: developing synergy with the university. The 2006 study examined a two-year period and found that 127 students had been taken on as interns at the research park, with an additional 37 students hired. The same study also found that 58 members of UMBC’s faculty had been hired as consultants by companies at the research park UMBC President Freeman A. Hrabowski, III finds it “encouraging to see so many of the companies hiring students, and faculty starting companies. There is a considerable synergy.”

The same 2006 survey also touted potential synergies with alumni. The study found that 70 UMBC alumni work at bwtech@UMBC. Some of them are starting companies that have found a home at the research park, including Andre Gudger ’99, information systems management, CEO of Solvern Innovations.

Location, Location, Location

Companies at bwtech@UMBC are touting the benefits of a relationship with the university. One success story is BDMetrics, Inc., which supplies specialized technology for the tradeshow industry.

Mollie Spilman, the company’s president and CEO, cites UMBC’s location and amenities as key factors in the relationship. “We have access to not only a group of other emerging businesses in the research park and incubator,” says Spilman, “but also to a diverse group of talented students who can help with market testing, research projects and much more.”

The incubation program at bwtech@UMBC has been important to the growth of BDMetrics and other companies. BDMetrics started out in UMBC’s incubator facility in August 2003 and then quickly grew large enough to move into the research park’s second office building as a tenant in late 2004.

Hemmerly is particularly happy that 12 new companies have been attracted to bwtech@UMBC’s Incubator and Accelerator over the past year, including a number of start-ups in the life sciences. “That’s a lot of activity,” she says.

Part of that activity is the opening of a new incubator, Advantage Incubator@bwtech, that focuses on tech companies owned by minorities, women or veterans which hope to focus on selling services to state and federal agencies.

One company involved in the new project is CardioMed Device Consultants, which was started by Semih Oktay ’93 Ph.D., mechanical engineering. Oktay is not only an alumnus, but also a long-time faculty member at the university. His company helps medical-device companies navigate the growing complexities of regulation in the United States and elsewhere.

Oktay highlights the university’s proximity to BWI-Thurgood Marshall Airport and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) – which is the main player in U.S. regulation of medical devices – as a key factor in his move to bwtech@UMBC. He also has high hopes of tapping into the faculty and student population of UMBC as his company grows. “I hope that eventually I can bring more funding and research projects to the university,” says Oktay.

Hemmerly is also proud of the ACTiVATE program – a joint effort between the Incubator and the university’s Office of Technology Development and Alex. Brown Center for Entrepreneurship to identify women at midcareer with the potential to start their own tech companies. The program has trained 92 women and launched 25 companies in its first four years of existence, and UMBC recently announced that it has received a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to expand the ACTiVATE program to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

At a university known for its diversity and its forward-leaning stance on technology, bwtech@UMBC Research and Technology Park has woven itself into the fabric of the institution – even if it did take more than a decade to make the park a reality.

“That’s the vision,” says Hemmerly. “That we build on the strengths of the university.”

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