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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.”

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.

Maryland government agencies have a history of funding worker training projects, but never before has training been made so widely available across an entire industry.

Under the direction of the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, the EARN (Employment Advancement Right Now) Maryland Workforce Training Initiative is now offering an unprecedented opportunity for business leaders to form partnerships and offer the type of training needed to significantly increase worker productivity.

The first step is filling out an EARN Maryland Planning Grant application, which first became available on Oct. 15 and must be submitted by Nov. 12, 2013. Lead applicants will apply for $25,000 to fund the creation of a Strategic Industry Partnership Workforce Training Plan. There is no limit to the number of these grants the state will issue.

Between November 2013 and April 2014, the funding will assist the lead applicant in forming a partnership with fellow key players in their industry. Many will take advantage of professional membership organizations that already join business leaders together according to their shared interests. Through conferences, meetings and training sessions, they will determine the type of training needed most among workers in their industry and submit their requests for training programs.

By May 2014, DLLR will award implementation grants for approved Strategic Industry Partnership Workforce Training Plans.

The lead applicant for the initial $25,000 planning grant can fall into any of the following categories:

• Employer
• Nonprofit organization
• Two- and four-year institution of higher education
• Local Workforce Board
• Industry association
• Labor union
• Local government
• Local or regional economic development entity

While the initiative is the first of its kind in Maryland, similar programs have succeeded in Colorado, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, and have already assisted workers in industries including aerospace, healthcare and clean energy. More information on their best practices is available through DLLR.

Those seeking more information should consider watching webinars on the program through DLLR’s website or attending a statewide Pre-Proposal Conference at 1 p.m. on October 18 at the Anne Arundel Community College, Robert E. Kauffman Theater, 101 College Parkway, Arnold, MD 21012.

bytegridWith a headquarters in Silver Spring and recent acquisitions in the South and Midwest, data center company Bytegrid is conducting expansion by consolidation.

The company announced Monday that the U.S. Department of Labor has begun migrating data to Bytegrid’s Silver Spring facility, a low, sprawling complex with security fences, biometric locks and massive generators to protect more than 90,000 square feet of server rooms. The move comes as part of a seven-year, $59.4 million contract won by Lockheed Martin and Bytegrid to consolidate the functions of several data centers run by agencies under the department’s umbrella.

The Obama Administration launched the Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative (FDCCI) in February 2010 to cut $2.4 billion in data storage, software and IT support costs. The goal is to eliminate or consolidate nearly 1,200 federal data centers by 2015.

“We see this as a huge opportunity for us,” said Don Goodwin, Bytegrid’s executive vice president of leasing and marketing. “This is just a beginning of a lot more to come.”

The company has already worked with other federal customers and is seeking other FDCCI contracts. Executives hope their work with Labor will showcase Bytegrid’s ability to successfully transfer large amounts of critical data from federal data centers to those run by the company.

“Having this success under our belt here will serve us very well,” said Bytegrid President Manuel Mencia. “It will give other agencies some comfort. The process is proven.”

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Industry partnerships enable sectors to cross-pollinate their unique perspectives and strengths. Stimulating this type of interaction to develop a more competitive workforce is a major goal behind Gov. Martin O’Malley’s EARN Maryland program.

Through the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, the program will present three upcoming webinars on building strategic industry partnerships. Free registration is available here through Eventbrite. Registrants will receive links and access codes via email prior to each webinar. Information will also be available on the program’s website.

Sessions are planned for the following dates and times:

1 p.m. to 2 p.m., Wednesday, July 10

  • Industry Partnerships 101
  • “Don’t miss this opportunity to learn how far strategic industry partnerships have come in the last decade, and the keys to their success. This webinar is for all potential stakeholders, those already convening industry or sector partnerships, those just beginning to consider this model; and all other partners, including workforce and economic development entities, educational institutions, as well as human service and other community organizations.”

1 p.m. to 2 p.m., Wednesday, July 17

  • Industry Data: How to Identify Your Target Industry
  • “Roll up your sleeves! This webinar will be spent digging into industry data. Using good data is an essential early step to launching a successful industry partnership, but can quickly become overwhelming.During this webinar, you will learn how to read and use data without getting “analysis paralysis,” including assessing which industries really drive your regional economy.”

1 p.m. to 2 p.m., Thursday, Aug. 1

  • Mobilizing Your Partnership: Preparing for the Launch
  • “You will also learn how multiple factors such as short and long term job growth, density of companies within one industry in your region, number of jobs, and average wages and salaries help guide decision-making and create buy-in and support from public and private partners to launch an industry partnership.”

TEDCO - Maryland Technology Development CorporationUniversity labs and entrepreneurs are apt at developing great ideas—but getting those ideas to market can often prove challenging. That’s where the Maryland Technology Development Corporation, known as TEDCO, stands ready to help.

TEDCO, through its Maryland Innovation Initiative, recently awarded $2,960,466 to 29 ventures, including nine start-up companies and 20 university projects in the therapeutic, software, medical, mobile and online technologies industries. The Maryland Innovation Initiative is a partnership between the state and the University of Maryland, College Park; University of Maryland, Baltimore County; University of Maryland, Baltimore; Johns Hopkins University; and Morgan State University.

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NOAA/NASA Suomi NPP satellite's VIIRS instrument

This image was taken by a polar-orbiting NOAA/NASA satellite on Feb. 10, 2013, as the historic New England snowstorm headed out into the Atlantic. Credit: NOAA Environmental Visualization Lab

Incorrect weather data may leave you without an umbrella on a rainy day, but its effects can also be far more severe.

“Maybe you’re left unprepared for the next hurricane, maybe life is lost or property is damaged, maybe the crops aren’t watered on time. Accurate weather data is really crucial to have,” said Samir Chettri, a program manager at Global Science & Technology.

The Greenbelt-based company, founded in Maryland 22 years ago, takes high-tech weather forecasting and environmental data collection very seriously. Its dedication to accuracy and longstanding relationship with federal agencies recently earned the firm a $22.8 million contract with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Over the next five years, GST will provide technical and engineering services associated with the Joint Polar Satellite System, NOAA and NASA’s next generation of polar-orbiting satellites. The JPSS-1, the program’s second polar-orbiting satellite space craft, is scheduled to launch in early 2017.

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The Port of Baltimore is a hub for exporting in Maryland.

The Port of Baltimore is a hub for exporting in Maryland.

A growing number of products and services are traveling the world through Maryland’s borders­, and several programs are available to help continue that trend.

In 2012, Maryland’s exports reached a record $11.8 billion. It was one of few states to increase its number of goods and services launched into the international market. Still, according to Deputy Secretary Bob Walker of the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development, just 3 percent of Maryland companies are involved in exporting.

“You can imagine, if we were to adjust that needle to 4 percent, how many more dollars we could bring into this economy, how many more jobs we would create and how many more companies could improve their bottom line through revenue and sales and so forth,” Walker said.

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As more devices, ranging from kitchen appliances to streetlights, become connected to the Internet, the threat of malicious hacking has reached new levels.

Eric Fiterman, CEO of Baltimore-based cybersecurity company Spotkick, recently explained how hackers are using the search engine Shodan to reveal systems’ security weaknesses. Spotkick is part of the bwtech@UMBC research and technology incubator group.

Watch his interview with CNNMoney here or embedded below.

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Cortix Systems

Cortix Systems is an InvestMaryland finalist.

Check back for Q&A profiles on all the competition finalists.

The first-ever InvestMaryland Challenge is down to its final round with just 33 companies competing for more than $300,000 in grants and business services. The final winners will be announced during the Governor’s Cup Awards Ceremony on April 15.

One of the companies, selected out of more than 250 applicants, is Cortix Systems, based in Alexandria, Virginia. To find out a little more about this innovative pharmaceutical company, we spoke with Matt Piekarczyk, company president.

Q. What does Cortix Systems do, and how would you explain it to the average person?

A. It’s primarily a platform that you can think of as a mix between Siri and Google. Effectively, what we do is provide answers to user questions out of the documents, databases and services which already exist within organizations. The user provides a query, just like they would in Google, except that instead of returning a zillion documents they may or may not find interesting, we actually return the data they’re looking for. So, if you put in the question, “How many patients have been coming into my office?” within a certain date range, to answer that question, you would have to scan several documents and systems and maybe create a Web search. Our system combines all of that to allow you to get the answer to your question. Any answer that can be arrived at by combining many different sources of information—that’s what our system does.

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Cybersecurity in Maryland

Maryland legislators are reviewing a cybersecurity investment bill.

A landmark bill—expected to appear before the Maryland Senate Budget and Taxation Committee on Tuesday, April 2—is slated to significantly incentivize investment in Maryland’s job-creating cybersecurity industry.

But while the Maryland House of Delegates passed the Cybersecurity Investment Incentive Tax Credit bill on March 24, amendments changed key provisions that would have allowed investors outside of Maryland to take advantage of valuable tax credit incentives.

A broader investment base not only creates jobs, industry leaders say, but helps ensure that successful companies stay and grow in Maryland.

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bytegrid

Nearly two years after setting up shop in its first data center in Maryland, Silver Spring’s ByteGrid is eyeing expansion.

“We’re positioned to do very well and be very successful here,” Don Goodwin, ByteGrid’s executive vice president of leasing and marketing, said in a recent interview. “Maryland continues to be our flagship market and where we see our predominant focus as a company.”

As companies look to offload private data centers, ByteGrid snatches them up and leases the server space out to corporate and government clients. The company bought its first data center in Silver Spring in May 2011 from a major financial institution that remains the anchor tenant at the facility.

Tenants’ equipment sits in server rooms that cover more than 90,000 square feet — about the size of two professional football fields, minus the end zones — and are protected from intruders and blackouts by rings of security fencing, biometric locks, massive generators and redundant power supplies.

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