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The next great idea was easier to find than a necktie at TechBuzz2014, a semi-annual event put on by the Mid-Atlantic Venture Association (MAVA) where entrepreneurs, given more to flannel shirts than business suits, pitched their fledgling companies to an auditorium full of venture capital and angel investors.

The event aimed to link investment firms with 20 promising startups seeking about $1 million to $3 million to expand their businesses, hire talent and begin building their products.

Dozens of startups have presented at six similar TechBuzz gatherings since 2010 and 40 percent received venture funding within a year as a result, said MAVA Executive Director Julia Spicer. The growth of TechBuzz over the past four years reflects growth of early and venture-stage investing in the mid-Atlantic. The Baltimore-Washington region is among the most active areas for venture investing in the country, along with California, Massachusetts, New York and Texas.

Venture capital funding in Maryland increased to $663 million in 2013 from $408 million in 2012, according to the MoneyTree Report by PricewaterhouseCoopers and the National Venture Capital Association. The state’s 63 percent growth far outpaced the national average of 7 percent. Maryland is also establishing itself as a major market for early investment, according to a report by the State Science & Technology Institute (SSTI) last month.

That was evident Tuesday at the Bethesda Blues & Jazz Club, a newly renovated Art Deco-era moviehouse, where startups, some of whom who just sold their first product weeks ago, came in search of early “angel” or “Series A” investment. The Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development (DBED) was a co-sponsor of the event. James Keeratisakdawong, Principal with DBED’s Maryland Venture Fund (MVF), co-chaired the committee that reviewed the applicants and selected 20 companies to present.

The startups spanned a wide array of ideas and products, some targeting consumers, others geared to the enterprise market. Companies ranged from Basepair, developer of software to analyze DNA sequencing data, to Brain Sentry, a Bethesda company whose wearable helmet sensors can signal when a youngster in a contact sport needs to be checked for a possible concussion, to LoveThatFit, a “virtual fitting” technology that enables users to try on clothes “virtually” and that aims to improve online apparel shopping. Armed only with slide presentations and “elevator speeches,” the entrepreneurs had four minutes to make a pitch. A countdown clock ensured not a second more. A panel of judges then evaluated them in the venture capital equivalent of “American Idol.”

One judge, MVF Managing Director Thomas S. Dann, observed that many local startups are focused on the hot markets of cybersecurity and cloud computing. But whatever the venture, he said, “we want to see entrepreneurs focused on the problem that the customer is trying to solve and how the ROI [return on investment] they offer can attract that next customer.”

Passion was also important. The judges said they made special note of whether the entrepreneur was motivated by a “pain point” they had experienced while seeking a product or service. One example of that was Mark Olcott, who described his College Park-based company Vitus Vet as a cloud-based network of medical records for pets. He described an example of a dog named Bogey that was brought to an emergency clinic for treatment after being injured. The pet died later that night because it couldn’t tolerate the type of anesthesia administered.

Olcott revealed he was the vet.

“I felt like I got kicked in the stomach,” he said.

Startups also must not overlook the potential competition for what they’re trying to create, said Dayna Grayson, a Partner at New Enterprise Associates, which ranked sixth last year for investments in Maryland, according to a recent Baltimore Business Journal survey. “A lot of presenters today didn’t talk about competitors,” she said. “Many large public companies have few direct competitors. It’s not enough to say you’re going to be among the best of five or six.”

Ultimately, as one investor judge told the entrepreneurs, the proof is in the product: “You get enough customers,” he remarked, “then you don’t need our money.”

A sweet fact—14 percent of the nation’s sugar is processed right here in Maryland.

Domino Foods, a mainstay of Baltimore’s skyline for over 90 years, refines more than 6.5 million pounds of raw sugar a day. Its facility, which blends new technology with historic factory space, employs roughly 620 people. And according to refinery manager Stuart FitzGibbon, these jobs are unique.

“These jobs provide a level of income where you can further your family’s position in life,” FitzGibbon said. “The type of income you can earn in manufacturing without an education is unparalleled. This is the fundamental difference between manufacturing and service sector jobs.”

FitzGibbon, a 26-year veteran of the company, is a cheerleader for Maryland manufacturing, which he calls a “lynchpin in the economy.”

He tells of employees who first starting working on the factory floor over 30 years ago. At the time, very few had college degrees and some hadn’t finished high school. Decades later, even as the plant has become increasingly automated, they’ve remained working, advanced their positions and sent their kids to college.

“It’s a model that’s created the American middle class,” he said.

Governor Martin O’Malley shares FitzGibbon’s enthusiasm for manufacturing. The Governor chose the plant as the backdrop for a recent job numbers announcement.

“There are hundreds of jobs here at Domino but there are also hundreds and hundreds more that are part of this ripple effect, so you’re standing in the sweet spot of the Baltimore economy,” Governor O’Malley said.

Governor O’Malley has supported manufacturers through infrastructure improvements on roads and rail, and expansion efforts at the Port of Baltimore. He also spearheaded the State’s EARN Maryland Program, which gives industry leaders access to state funding to coordinate worker training programs, with an emphasis on advanced manufacturing skills.

FitzGibbon urges Marylanders to take pride in using products made by Maryland manufacturers and support initiatives to revitalize the industry.

“Maryland has the opportunity to grow its manufacturing sector because we have the Chesapeake Bay, we have railroad service, great roads, and a supportive legislative environment,” he said. “I think this is a key thing for Maryland—we’ve got to grow private sector maritime manufacturing.”



DreamIt Ventures‘ Baltimore accelerator is adding another prestigious partner to its ranks: Kaiser Permanente will join the organization’s leadership team, alongside Johns Hopkins UniversityNorthrop Grumman Corporation and BioHealth Innovation.

“We look forward to working with these very promising new healthcare technology companies where we can provide access to industry leading health professionals and a real world laboratory to test the usability and effectiveness of next generation technology solutions” Kim Horn, president of the Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of the Mid-Atlantic States, Inc., said in a statement.

Through DreamIt Health Baltimore 2014, industry leaders and investors help support new healthcare information technology startups. Early-stage venture capital funding is offered to select companies that are “tackling significant problems, with sizable market opportunities, exceptional teams and demonstrated progress to date,” according to DreamIt Ventures.

DreamIt Ventures also acknowledges the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development as a major support for heath IT startups.

Nine new startups will participate in DreamIt Health Baltimore 2014, including the following:

  • Aegle (Baltimore) – Wearable biometric devices
  • Avhana (Baltimore) - Next-generation clinical decision support for the electronic health record
  • Cognuse (Talinn, Estonia) - Cognitive rehabilitation of stroke and traumatic brain injury patients through mobile games
  • EMOCHA (Baltimore) - Mobile capture of data for medication adherence and clinical trials
  • Protenus (Baltimore) - Digital management of patient consent and other administrative workflows
  • Respi (Athens, Greece) - Smartphone-based spirometry and respiratory data platform
  • Patient Feed – (Pittsburgh and New York City): Collaboration tool for inpatient care
  • Phobious (Barcelona, Spain) - Treatment of behavioral health issues through mobile, augmented reality
  • The Smartphone Physical (Baltimore) - Integration and distribution of clinically-relevant mobile health devices

Find more information on DreamIt Health Baltimore 2014 here.

 

Just in time for the holidays, Maryland added 8,900 jobs in November, new data from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics shows. Announcing the jobs growth on Friday at KEYW Corp, a Hanover-based cyber defense firm, Governor Martin O’Malley spotlighted the state’s growing cybersecurity industry.

November’s influx of jobs includes the highest number of private sector jobs added in a single month since 2007, the governor’s office announced. Of the new jobs created, the private sector contributed 6,600, while the public sector contributed 2,300. Since November 2012, Maryland has added a total of 33,500 jobs, an increase of 1.3 percent. The state’s preliminary unemployment rate dropped 0.3 percent, from 6.7 percent in October to 6.4 percent in November.

Among the biggest contributing jobs sectors are Professional and Business Services, which added 3,100 jobs and Natural Resources, Mining & Construction, which added 2,300 jobs.

Cybersecurity, included in the Professional and Business Services sector, is continuing to support Maryland’s economic recovery, employing more than 130,000 Marylanders at over 11,000 businesses and generating $11.88 billion in annual wages. It also attracted $7.76 billion in federal investment last year, according to the governor’s office.

“I’m pleased to announce this latest round of jobs gains on the grounds of one of Maryland’s cybersecurity leaders right here in Hanover. Every choice we make is about creating jobs and expanding opportunities for more Marylanders,” the governor said in a statement. “Homegrown companies like KEYW are the backbone of our innovation economy and provide hardworking moms and dads across our State with family-sustaining jobs.”

A preschooler peels back the label on a Crayola crayon. A happy hour-goer grasps a chilled bottle of Yuengling. A young mother reads the nutritional facts on a canister of Walgreens brand snacks.

They’re all handling a range of easily-overlooked Maryland-manufactured inputs—the labels.

Since 1896, Gamse Lithographing Company, has produced and printed labels for millions of everyday items in the United States, Canada and Latin America. Based in Rosedale in Baltimore County, the company’s clients include Crayola, Heinz, Yuengling, Walgreens, Walmart and others. In recent years, its manufacturing capabilities have extended beyond labels to include lids, wrappers, foil, embossing, die cutting and a range of other services.

Coordinated by the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development, Governor Martin O’Malley recently toured Gamse Lithographing Company with president and owner Daniel J. Canzoniero. The governor used the opportunity to meet some of the company’s 150 employees and to learn more about the innovative printing technologies that set the manufacturer apart.

“In this day and age, where there have been a lot of companies closing and a lot of downsizing and rightsizing, we haven’t been through that. It’s really nice to have some recognition for the stability that we’ve shown here over the years,” Canzoniero said.

Part of Gamse Lithographing Company’s secret to longevity is a dedication to the employee. The company has a long history of offering quality health coverage to workers, in addition to a competitive living wage. Canzoniero said the company is constantly working to expand each employee’s skillset through the use of new equipment and training programs.

“We’re strong believers in the fact that there need to be employers in Maryland for high school educated and trade school educated employees, not just those who were fortunate enough to get college educations, masters and Ph.D.s,” he said.

Canzoniero praised Maryland for its exceptional workforce and central location, which eases product development and negotiations with clients.

“We have good geographic synergy with a lot of the major Fortune 100 companies, being in the Mid-Atlantic,” he said.

See the above video to learn more about Gamse Lithographing Company.

Governor Martin O’Malley spotlighted Gamse Lithographing Company's dedication to providing employees a living wage and reliable health coverage.

Governor Martin O’Malley spotlighted Gamse Lithographing Company’s dedication to providing employees a living wage and reliable health coverage.

Since 1896, Gamse Lithographing Company in Rosedale, Maryland has made labels for commercial items across America.

Since 1896, Gamse Lithographing Company in Rosedale, Maryland has made labels for commercial items across America.

Credit MEDICA 2013

Credit MEDICA 2013

A growing number of firms in the medical device industry call Maryland home. But this week, a select group has ventured across the globe to participate in MEDICA, the world’s leading trade fair for medicine and medical technology.

Between Nov. 20 and Nov. 23, international medical market leaders, including 4,641 exhibitors from 66 countries, are descending on Dusseldorf, Germany for a range of MEDICA events. The BioMaryland Center, through the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development, is a state exhibitor, promoting Maryland’s medical-friendly business environment and also sponsoring attendance from participating companies.

“It really is a global event. We’re going to have probably over 150,000 visitors to our state booth,” said Carey Esslinger, regional manager over Europe, Russia, FSU, Latin America and the Balkans for Maryland DBED.

Maryland companies in attendance include Harmans-based AIV Inc.; Hanover-based BTE Technologies; Ijamsville-based BioAssay Works, LLC; Frederick-based BioElectronics Corporation; Annapolis-based Compass Languages; Westminster-based ImmunO4; Bethesda-based Dimetek Digital Medical Technologies Ltd.; Landover-based Man & Machine, Inc.; Germantown-based Medispec Ltd.; Rockville-based Tetracore, Inc.; and Pasadena-based Moss Inc.

Roughly half of the companies are showing in the Maryland booth, while others have “graduated” to become individual exhibitors, Esslinger said.

In recent years, Maryland’s participation in the show has planted the seeds for exporting agreements and foreign investment deals.

“It’s a perfect platform for Maryland companies looking to expand their sales internationally,” Esslinger said. “We have a number of Maryland companies attending the show this year, including manufacturers such as Man & Machine, who design water-proof keyboards used in hospitals, and Tetracore, which has developed a field testing kit for biological agents.”

The state, now considered a regular on the show floor, has developed a global reputation.

“Maryland’s strengths—such as proximity to federal facilities like the FDA, state of the art medical institutions like Johns Hopkins University and a highly educated workforce—are recognized and respected internationally,” he said.

Credit MEDICA 2013

Credit MEDICA 2013

Credit MEDICA 2013

Credit MEDICA 2013

i-Lighting

Scott Holland, owner of i-Lighting, displays a machine that allows him to complete circuit boards in-house. The company formerly imported from China.

It wasn’t just another business competition for Scott Holland, it was the realization of a life-long dream.

Holland’s startup i-Lighting, a novel easy-to-install indoor and outdoor LED lighting system, was awarded $100,000 and other prizes in April 2013 during the inaugural InvestMaryland Challenge, a prestigious business competition by the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development. Following weeks of rigorous judging and mentoring, his company beat out dozens of others, ranging from high-tech manufacturers to smart phone app developers, in the general category.

The i-Lighting team celebrated victory at a ceremony with Governor Martin O’Malley, along with RedOwl Analytics, winner of the information technology category, and Graybug, winner of the life sciences category.

For Holland, it was only the beginning of a new life for the company he had been nurturing since 2005. Over the course of the following six months, by fall 2013, the company experienced rapid, profitable growth.

i-Lighting Growth Since InvestMaryland Challenge Victory

Spring 2013 Fall 2013
Number of employees 3 full-time and 2 part-time 6 full-time and 3 part-time
Location and work space Home-based 1,600-square-foot space with living room office Newly constructed 5,000-square-foot office and warehouse space
Annual estimated calculated and projected revenue $500,000 in 2012 $1,000,000 in 2013$3,000,000 in 2014
Commercial product lines 3 6
Number of manufacturing machines 2 4
Work benches 2 10
Parts production outsourced to China Yes No
i-Lighting

i-Lighting offers a novel indoor and outdoor LED lighting system.

Pre-competition, a major challenge for Holland was convincing a bank to help finance his business. He was deeply passionate about his product, but knew he needed a jump-start.

“As a small business, it’s virtually impossible to just borrow from a traditional bank. They don’t want to take the chance,” he said. “But the cash injection from the InvestMaryland Challenge gave us the funds we needed to basically take us over the hump. That was a major hurdle we overcame after winning.”

But i-Lighting’s win offered far more than the cash prize.

“The exposure has been phenomenal. We weren’t known before. Now everyone knows about us. We gained legitimacy. Sometimes home-based businesses are looked down on. Having our own facility now, we’re able to entertain clients,” Holland said.

But one of the greatest benefits of participating was how it forced the young company to streamline its goals.

“Our business plan was mostly in our heads. It was on paper but it wasn’t highly refined. In order to qualify and compete, we had to create an actual realistic business plan. It forced us to focus and develop that plan. Now we’re implementing what we developed—and that’s huge,” he said.

Holland is especially proud of the fact that his company is no longer dependent on Chinese manufacturing. While it represented a substantial up-front cost to the company, Holland purchased a new machine that allows circuit board production for the lighting system to be completed in-house.  He described the independence and reliability of using his own machinery as liberating.

“Not everything made in China is poorly manufactured, but it’s true that you get what you pay for … You don’t have control over quality, you can’t see your product being made, so you don’t know the environment it’s being made in,” Holland said. “The initial basic product might be cheaper, but by the time you pay expedited airfreight, it’s extremely expensive, and you also have to pay duties and taxes for importing it. At the end of the day, we have control and I can deliver a better quality product to the market, almost always cheaper, and I can place ‘Made in the USA’ on it.’ ”

Holland urges other startups, whether they’re already located in Maryland or interested in moving to the state, to submit their applications for the second-annual 2014 InvestMaryland Challenge.

“Even if you don’t win, it gets your name out there in front of professionals,” he said.

InvestMaryland Challenge applicants receive free admission to networking events, social media promotion, scoring and feedback from judges, and exposure to venture capital firms and angel investors. Categories have increased from three to four to include life sciences, information technology, cybersecurity and general industry. Each category winner is eligible for a $100,000 grand prize. Others will take home smaller grants, incubator space, consulting services and other cash and in-kind prizes, bringing the total available competition prizes to $600,000.

Applications must be submitted by Dec. 6.

Additional details and a video message from the governor are available on the 2014 InvestMaryland Challenge website.

The next time you’re filtering through airport security, consider that the equipment scanning you and your luggage was likely produced right here in Maryland.

Smiths Detection, with its U.S. headquarters in Edgewood, is the world’s leading supplier of an array of tools used to detect weapons, explosives and chemical threats.

“Talk to any of our employees, we take great pride in keeping people safe,” said Mike Castek, site head of the Edgewood plant. Smiths Detection employs roughly 230 Marylanders, about 10 percent of the global division’s workforce, operating within United Kingdom-based Smiths Group.

While the majority of Americans will interact with a Smiths Detection scanner or x-ray machine at an airport, products also cater to elite security groups like the United Nations’ Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. Weapons inspectors used Smith Detection products during their most recent investigation of chemical warfare in Syria. The group’s mission helped secure them the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize.

The focus on chemical weapons detection is part of the rationale behind its Edgewood location. Aberdeen Proving Ground, just a stone’s throw from the plant, houses the U.S. Army Edgewood Chemical Biological Center, which uses several Smiths Detection products. Military and first responders to chemical threats have utilized the company’s unique Chemical Biological Protective Shelters.

“It’s crucial to be close to our customers and to be able to get the products to the right place as quickly as possible,” said Brian Boso, chief scientist at the plant.

Leadership at the Maryland location also take advantage of their proximity to Washington, D.C.

“We talk to the CIA, TSA, Secret Service, U.S. Marshals and the Department of Defense on a constant basis, trying to work with them to figure out what the future threats are and to develop new techniques,” Boso said.

“Unfortunate events” have contributed to Smiths Detection’s rapid growth in recent years, company leadership said.

Prior to Sept. 11, 2001, threat detection equipment represented a very small portion of Smiths Group’s global operation. Through acquisition of another company, it then produced 100-150 desktop explosive detectors per year. Three months after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, however, the Transportation Security Administration placed an order for 6,000 desktop explosive detectors to be issued at airports across the nation.

“It’s a very event-driven industry. As the terrorists change their mode of operation, we have to adapt,” Boso said.

Increased demand for security equipment caused Smiths Group to name Smiths Detection a separate division in 2003. In recent years, the Edgewood plant’s footprint and workforce has doubled.

Smiths Detection was at the forefront of developing on-site detection tools for “white powder incidents,” often suspected of involving anthrax, he said. More recently, the company has developed a scanner for liquid, which will enable TSA to restrict only threatening liquids carried on by passengers, clearing harmless ones.

The Edgewood plant’s workforce reflects the changing face of new-age manufacturing, where the laboratory is as important as the factory floor.

A large number of employees are electronic test technicians, who typically have a two-year associates degree with an electrical engineering focus. Members of the research and development staff tend to have advanced degrees.

“It can be a challenge sometimes to find highly technical scientists, but we’ve been able to take advantage of Maryland’s educated workforce and also attract people here,” Castek said.

As opposed to historic perceptions of a dangerous factory, Smiths Detection’s next-generation manufacturing methods focus on protecting the employee.

“The workplace is designed around the people as much as it’s designed around the equipment, which was not the case years ago,” Boso said.  “We pride ourselves that our products help keep people safe, so we certainly don’t want anyone getting hurt building our products.”

Smiths Detection is poised for growth in Maryland. Already, its technology is used at Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, BWI Fire & Rescue Department and fire departments in Harford County, Cecil County, Prince George’s County and Baltimore City. Multiple courthouses and federal buildings in Maryland also use Smiths Detection weapons scanners.

Boso said the company is well integrated with governmental and public safety institutions across the country, but there are new opportunities emerging in commercial and critical infrastructure markets.

Corporate headquarters, schools, mass transit stations and prisons are becoming customers for threat detection equipment, including x-ray machines, metal detectors, scanners used to secure checkpoints.

“We see a fair amount of expansion in those areas, for sure. Smiths is optimistic about the future market,” Boso said.

 

November 14, 2013 (Baltimore, MD) – Governor Martin O’Malley announced today that EnerTech Capital Partners and Foundation Medical Partners (FMP) have been selected to receive funds through the State’s $84 million InvestMaryland program. The venture capital firms will invest $10 and $7 million each in young, innovative Maryland companies. As part of the agreement, the firms will return to the State’s general fund 100 percent of the principal and 80 percent of the proceeds from successful investments. Created by Governor O’Malley and the Maryland General Assembly in 2011, InvestMaryland is a historic initiative to fuel Maryland’s Innovation Economy, support entrepreneurs and stimulate job creation.

“Maryland is committed to investing in the entrepreneurs, startups and small businesses that will soon become the leaders of our growing Innovation Economy and we are excited to have EnerTech and FMP join us in that effort,” Governor O’Malley said. “InvestMaryland leverages the capital and expertise of the private sector to support young Maryland businesses as they grow and create family-sustaining jobs for the people of our State.”

“Venture capital and knowledgeable investors can mean the difference between success and failure for young companies, even those built around promising ideas and innovative technologies,” Business and Economic Development Secretary Dominick E. Murray said. “InvestMaryland is just one more advantage Maryland has in the life sciences, social media, cybersecurity, big data, green energy and other high-tech fields. We look forward to working with EnerTech and FMP as they make their investments.”

“EnerTech has been investing in Maryland since shortly after our founding in 1996. We are delighted to be selected by the InvestMaryland team and welcome their participation in our final close of EnerTech Capital Partners IV,” said Tucker Twitmyer, Managing Director of EnerTech. “The State has an impressive track record in our sector and we look forward to helping Maryland’s workforce create the next generation of real energy solutions — for Maryland and for the world.”

EnerTech invests in early to growth-stage companies that offer products or services that make energy production and consumption more efficient, reliable, and cost-effective. The firm has managed about $500 million since its founding in 1996. Its current fund, in which InvestMaryland is a participant, is approximately $120 million. EnerTech’s portfolio ranges from Tangent Energy Solutions, a company that makes industrial sites more energy efficient, to n-Dimension Solutions, a cybersecurity firm focused on critical infrastructure.

FMP invests in the healthcare technology sector, focusing on transformational technologies and services that enable value-based healthcare and leverage wireless, data and analytics technologies. Its portfolio includes a diverse set of companies specializing in healthcare informatics, medical device development and innovative diagnostic technologies. FMP is still in its fundraising phase and could not comment on its new fund.

InvestMaryland is the largest venture capital investment in history by the State. Last year, $84 million was raised for the program through an online auction of tax credits. Of that funding, two-thirds will be managed by private venture firms like EnerTech and FMP. So far, $48 million has been committed to seven firms. The remaining third is being invested by the state-run Maryland Venture Fund (MVF).

The MVF was seeded with $25 million and over its 17-year existence invested in hundreds of start-up and early stage technology and life sciences companies, generating a $67 million return, 2000 jobs and more than $1 billion in private investment. Returns from MVF investments are reinvested in the program.

InvestMaryland ChallengeNovember 13, 2013 (Baltimore, MD) – As the deadline draws near for applications for the second annual InvestMaryland Challenge, the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development (DBED) announced today that the national business competition has already secured more than $600,000 in awards for its winners. Companies will compete in four categories to win top prizes of $100,000 each as well as smaller prizes that include grants, incubator space, and business and legal services. Applications are due Dec. 6 and winners will be announced in April after two rounds of judging. For an application, or more information, click here.

“It is no accident the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has named Maryland the #1, top-ranked state for innovation and entrepreneurship for two years in a row,” DBED Secretary Dominick Murray said. “The InvestMaryland Challenge is a central part of our commitment to supporting our entrepreneurs and small business owners as they innovate, grow and create good, family-sustaining jobs for their friends and neighbors. We look forward to working with the judges and the applicants as the competition moves forward and crowning very worthy winners in April.”

The Challenge will award top prizes in four categories — General Industry, IT, Life Sciences and, new this year, Cybersecurity. Recent additions to the list of special awards are two Army Research Lab packages that will provide office space in Adelphi and Aberdeen incubators, an opportunity to collaborate with Army scientists and engineers and exposure to potential government and military customers. Other special awards include space at the TowsonGlobal incubator, consulting services from BioHealth Innovation Inc., a software package from Microsoft BizSpark, and a $10,000 grant for a rural Maryland entrepreneur provided by the Eastern Shore Entrepreneurship Council and the Rural Maryland Council. One of the first Challenge winners, i-Lighting of North East, is also contributing a $2,500 cash prize. For a full list of awards, click here.

After businesses turn in their entries, including a business plan, by Dec. 6, they will be evaluated in January by panels of judges. The top companies in each category will move on to face-to-face interviews with judging panels in March. Winners of each category and the special awards and prizes will be announced at the InvestMaryland Challenge Finale in April.

The benefits of the Challenge stretch far beyond the cash prizes and other awards, as competing companies will have the opportunity  to have their business plans evaluated by teams of expert judges comprised of successful entrepreneurs, angel investors, venture capitalists, high-tech and scientific researchers, top-level executives and others who work with startups. Connections forged with judges and fellow contestants can pave the way for partnerships, new customer relationships and further investment.

The inaugural Challenge awarded more than $425,000 in cash prizes and services and drew 259 contestants from 10 states and Washington D.C., with companies applying from as far away as California, Georgia and Massachusetts. As required last year, out-of-state companies are eligible to apply in the General Category but would have to establish an office in Maryland and spend a majority of the funding here if they claim the top prize. The Life Sciences, IT and Cybersecurity categories are open only to Maryland companies. Every category is limited to companies with fewer than 25 employees and less than $1 million in annual revenue.

When it comes to finding a job, military veterans fare better in Maryland than in most states.

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, an estimated 435,000 veterans make their home in Maryland and a total of 21.1 million in the United States. The veteran population in Maryland is 89 percent male and 11 percent female with an average age that is older than the general population. Nearly 70 percent of the veteran working-age population is over 55; meanwhile, 30 percent of the overall veteran population is over 55.

The economic situation of veterans varies by state, however, the overall rate of unemployed veterans remains lower than that of the general population. Veteran unemployment across the country ranges from a low of 2.1 percent in North Dakota to 10 percent in New Jersey. Maryland, along with a handful of other states, has one of the lowest rates of unemployed veterans at 5.3 percent (see Figure 1 below).

Figure 1 Veteran unemployment rate among U.S. states

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Note: BLS does not publish unemployment data for veterans by state due to the small sample size; however, such data is available upon request.

As the veteran labor market mirrors overall economic conditions, it is unsurprising that the largest spikes in the veteran unemployment rate happened in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. Since then, the unemployment rate has declined as the economy recovers.

In 2012, Maryland’s unemployment rate stood at 5.3 percent for veterans and 6.8 percent for the general population (see Figure 2 below). Unemployment numbers have been relatively low compared to the general unemployment rate 2003 through 2008. The rate then increased for another year before starting to fall again. This recent positive trend underlines the story of Maryland’s overall economic recovery and improving job market, which by August of 2013 had recovered 100 percent of the jobs lost during the recession period.

Figure 2 Unemployment rate among veteran and Non-veteran population in Maryland, 2008-2012. (Not seasonally adjusted)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

Targeting policies that ease some the barriers to employment for veterans have become increasingly important for federal and state governments alike. Growing evidence suggests that perhaps the most challenging aspect for veterans seeking jobs is the transition into the civilian labor market. In a survey conducted by Prudential Financial in 2012, 70 percent of veterans regard the experience of finding employment as a civilian as the most challenging transition from their active duty life.

In response to these challenges, Governor Martin O’Malley set a goal to reduce Maryland’s veteran unemployment rate to 3 percent by the end of 2014 through the deployment targeted resources and assistance.

The governor also signed the Veterans Full Employment Act of 2013, which accomplished the following:

The second annual InvestMaryland Challenge is in full swing. If your business is in need of a jump start, check out this site for more information about the national business competition. The Challenge offers applicants free admission to networking events, social media promotion, scoring and feedback from judges, exposure to venture capital firms and angel investors and the chance to compete for more than $600,000 in prizes. Winners of the Life Sciences, IT, Cybersecurity and General Industry categories will each win $100,000 awards. Others will take home smaller grants, incubator space, consulting services and other cash and in-kind prizes. Applications are due by Dec. 6.

Judges include a distinguished lineup of industry leaders and experts in a variety of fields. Meet a selection of judges below.

Meet The Judges:

IT-robDoub

ROBB DOUB

Robb Doub joined New Markets Venture Partners in 2003. Robb is the lead administrative partner and serves as a board director for eCoast Sales Solutions and Appfluent Technology, and is lead partner or board observer for K2 Global, Kroll Bond Ratings, Navtrak, Three Stage Media, CSA Medical and TidalTV. He also serves on the board of Egeen International and the Conflicts Advisory Board of the off-shore hedge funds.

IT-daphneDufresneDAPHNE DUFRESNE

Daphne Dufresne joined RLJ Equity Partners from Parish Capital Advisors, where she was a Venture Partner managing the direct investment and co-investment program. Formerly, Ms. Dufresne was a Principal at Weston Presidio Capital with $3.4 billion of assets under management. She also served as Associate Director in the Bank of Scotland’s Structured Finance Group. Ms. Dufresne received her B.S. from the University of Pennsylvania and her M.B.A. from Harvard Business School.

LS_Christy_W_WyskielCHRISTY WILLIAMS WYSKIEL

Christy Williams Wyskiel is an entrepreneur and investor with 20 years of experience focused on the life sciences and healthcare industries. Previously, Christy was Managing Director at Maverick Capital, an equity hedge fund with $12 billion under management. She co-founded GrayBug, an ophthalmic drug-delivery company. In 2012, Christy joined the Johns Hopkins Alliance, a board charged with evaluating the commercial viability of research projects at JHU.

CS_Frederick_FerrerFREDERICK J. FERRER

Frederick J. Ferrer has over three decades of experience in the National Security, Intelligence Community (IC), Homeland Defense and Cyber. Mr. Ferrer holds a Master’s of Science in Strategic Intelligence from the National Intelligence University and serves in a number of leadership capacities, including the Maryland Commission on Cybersecurity Innovation and Excellence; National STEM Consortium Advisory Committee; and Chesapeake Regional Tech Council.

GEN_Deb_TillettDEBORAH TILLETT

As the Executive Director and President of the Emerging Technology Center in Baltimore, Ms. Tillett is responsible for management of budgetary, administrative, programmatic functions and strategic planning. Prior to joining ETC, Ms. Tillett served as president and co-founder of Immersive 3D, LLC, a technology start-up providing web-based 3D computer gaming solutions for K-20 education and offering contract-based technology services.

See the full list of judges and submit your application on InvestMarylandChallenge.org.