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Entrepreneur awards highlight USM’s technology initiative

Research conducted by faculty, students and staff at University System of Maryland institutions has led to the formation of 115 companies in the last three years.

The founders of two of those companies were recipients of the inaugural USM Board of Regents Entrepreneur of the Year Awards on Tuesday, chosen by a selection committee that whittled the field down to about 10 candidates before getting stuck between two.

“It was a very competitive process,” said Gary L. Attman, chair of the Board of Regents Committee on Economic Development and Technology Commercialization. “In fact, it was so competitive, we ended up in a tie.”

The winners are: Neil Goldsman and Martin Peckerar, professors in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Maryland, College Park — who started FlexEl LLC to market a lightweight, flexible battery they developed — and Dr. Scott Strome, a professor and chair of the Department of Otorhinolaryngology in the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore.

Strome, a physician, is the co-founder Gliknik Inc., a biopharmaceutical company that is creating new therapies for patients with cancer and immune disorders. All three received checks for $1,000.

With about 100 business and higher education leaders from around the state seated in an auditorium at the John and Frances Angelos Law Center at the University of Baltimore, the three faculty entrepreneurs were honored as examples of what Maryland’s public universities are hoping to produce. The university system seeks to create 325 companies by 2020 through a greater emphasis on commercializing research.

Dominick E. Murray, secretary of the state Department of Business and Economic Development, said state officials were banking on universities to generate job growth through the successful formation of companies.

“As you will often hear the governor say, education is economic development,” Murray said.

Incubators and technology parks at the University of Maryland, College Park and University of Baltimore helped Silver Spring-based FlexEl and Baltimore-based Gliknik get started.

Gliknik was named Incubator Company of the Year in 2009 and FlexEl was named Company of the Year in the technology transfer category at the 2010 Maryland Incubator Awards.

Peckerar, who co-founded FlexEl with Goldsman, joked that without help on the business side from the university’s tech transfer office, he and Goldsman wouldn’t have known how to pay their taxes or make payroll.

University System Chancellor William E. “Brit” Kirwan said that was precisely the role he hoped technology transfer offices at the universities would play. Last year, as part of an agreement to foster greater cooperation between the state’s flagship university in College Park and the professional schools in Baltimore, the system created UM Ventures, joining the universities’ technology transfer offices.

“These two worlds — business and higher education — are inextricably linked,” Kirwan said. “[These companies] are perfect examples of what we are striving to accomplish across the system.”

UMCP and UMB, combined, conduct about $1 billion in research annually. Despite that, the universities have struggled to move some of that research into the marketplace. That mindset is changing, Strome said, and the university system has started incentivizing that change.

A Board of Regents committee decided last summer to instruct universities to use the marketing of research when considering professors’ tenure applications, putting that category on par with publication and student success.

“My dream as a doctor has always been to help as many as I could,” he said. “Entrepreneurship, I believe, is a vehicle to be able to live out that dream.”