Wanted: female entrepreneurs

August 30, 2004
Daily Record Business Writer

A new program at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County will connect fledgling women entrepreneurs with technologies developed at research universities throughout the state in hopes that new startups will form.

With a $600,000 grant from the National Science Foundation, UMBC will create Achieving the Commercialization of Technology in Ventures through Applied Training for Entrepreneurs, or ACTiVATE. Set to start in the spring semester, the program targets mid-career women looking for opportunities to be entrepreneurs.

“We don't have enough entrepreneurial talent in the state, where people are going to license technologies from university and federal labs and take the risk to develop the technologies into businesses,” said Ellen Hemmerly, executive director of the UMBC Research Park Corp.

The state consistently ranks near the top for federal and university research and development on the Corporation for Enterprise Development's report card, but it ranked 32nd nationally for university spinoffs in 2002, for example.

“That is why we think our program is necessary and will be successful. And we believe the focus on women makes a lot of sense because they are a huge, untapped resource,” Hemmerly said.

The one-year program, which includes classroom instruction, mentorship and hands-on training, will be divided into two stages.

The first — made up of a series of classes on business basics — is designed to expose participants to the lifestyle of entrepreneurship so they can weigh risks.

Those that proceed — Hemmerly expects half of the participants will — go on to form companies around various technologies and start the journey of product commercialization.

Housed in the techcenter@UMBC, the university's incubator for startup and emerging companies, ACTiVATE startups will have daily access to experienced entrepreneurs.

Ultimately the companies with the most potential — Hemmerly thinks at least a dozen will form — will receive funding from ACTiVATE partner the Maryland Technology Development Corp., as well as the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development and possibly the New Markets Growth Fund, a venture capital fund headquartered at the University of Maryland, College Park's Robert H. Smith School of Business.

Hemmerly said the program, for at least the first three of the program's 30 classes, will cost participants nothing.

The goal is for ACTiVATE to evolve into a permanent, self-sustaining program that charges tuition and takes a small equity position in each startup it spawns.

The program is a partnership between the university's Office of Technology and Development, techcenter@UMBC, the Alex. Brown Center for Entrepreneurship and the Center for Women and Information Technology, which is currently spearheading the recruitment for the program's first class.

Most of the research universities in the state — a list that includes Johns Hopkins University and Towson University — have partnered to provide technology for the program.