Economic Engine: bwtech@UMBC boosts state and local economies through jobs, revenue and vision

The Great Recession, the worst economic downturn since the 1930s, hit the United States in 2006 with the burst of the housing bubble. The country has been struggling to return to pre-recession levels since then, but new numbers reveal a different story at bwtech@UMBC: our research park has been working as a vibrant economic engine for the State of Maryland.

A new study from the Sage Policy Group reveals that the bwtech@UMBC research park has grown at a remarkable pace. The park contributes nearly 2,500 jobs to Baltimore County today, an increase of 41 percent since last measured in 2006.

The park started in 1989 with two trailers and five companies. By 2006 bwtech@UMBC was a major player, with 42 companies generating $100 million in income for the State of Maryland. Now, eight years later, with 120 companies, the park is generating $165 million for the state.

bwtech@UMBC is the first university-affiliated research and technology park in Maryland. It’’s situated on 71 acres and has a total of 525,000 square feet, including 80,000 square feet of wet laboratory space. The remaining 445,000 square feet house technology and office space.

There are about 28 incubators in Maryland, but bwtech@UMBC is one of only two working to grow the region’s cybersecurity industry. The other is the Chesapeake Innovation Center in Odenton, Maryland, home to 50 cyber companies. Today, bwtech@UMBC cybersecurity community the largest cluster of early-stage cybersecurity companies at a university-affiliated research park in the nation.

In November 2010 the park formed a partnership with Northrop Grumman to launch the Northrop Grumman Cync program. The program focuses on commercializing technology to protect the nation from a growing range of cyber threats, building on bwtech@UMBC’s successful business-incubation framework by offering a scholarship program for companies with the most promising cybersecurity ideas.

But it’s not all about cyber. For bwtech@UMBC diversity is key. While cyber accounts for 40 percent of the companies, the life sciences make up 40 percent and clean energy 10 percent. The remaining 10 percent are organizations dedicated to training and research.

“This is the result of the solid partnership formed between industry, state government, local government and the university system,” says Ellen Hemmerly, president and executive director of bwtech@UMBC. The location isn’’t bad either. Close proximity to BWI, the NSA, NIH, FDA and Fort Meade make the park an attractive option for cyber and biotech companies.

Anirban Basu, chairman and CEO of the Sage Policy Group, says that bwtech@UMBC’s “focus on life sciences and cybersecurity” really is “a natural for Maryland.”

But the defining characteristic that draws all the park’s activity together is a focus on early-stage companies.

Kimberly Brown, CEO of Amethyst Technologies, values the opportunities to connect with other companies. Other CEOs, such as Delali Dzirasa ’04, computer engineering, of Fearless Solutions, say that having access to entrepreneurs-in-residence is key to learning about business. Kathleen Turano, President of Plant Sensory Systems, says that when her company first came to the park the most attractive feature of the park was its mentoring service.

With all this success, what’’s next for bwtech@UMBC? The Sage Policy Group report notes that as the park continues to concentrate on cybersecurity and the life sciences, and further develops models to support early-stage businesses, their needs for physical space, funding, and financial support will continue as well.

But, says Basu, “while there are many other industries among tenants, the number of cyber and life sciences companies at bwtech@UMBC helps to clarify its position as a specialist in these industries.

Image: Ellen Hemmerly and colleagues at bwtech@UMBC. Photo by Marlayna Demond ’11 for UMBC.